Two thousand years ago, the most controversial man ever born entered
history. He has often been described as the greatest moral teacher of all time, yet most in every generation since his birth have dismissed him, ignored him or rejected him altogether. Some have hated him, and a few have died for love of him. His name is Jesus.
Whatever you think you know or believe about him, Jesus himself left no doubt as to who he believed himself to be. In fact, he made quite possibly, the most outrageous claims ever uttered. The following quotations are a sampling:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me (John 14:6).
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18).
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away (Matthew 24:35).
I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall not thirst (John 6:35).
I and the Father (God) are one (John 10:30).
Do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’ (Jn. 10:36)?
Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:1-3).
He who has seen Me has seen the Father (God) (John 14:9).
The question is, Are these claims true? How can we know? They are either true or false. If false, then Christianity is a farce and Jesus is a false prophet who has deceived many. But if they are true, then Jesus is who he claimed to be, and there is, as he said, only one way to God. Every other path merges onto ‘the broad road that leads to destruction’ (Mt. 7:13-14). Jesus never taught that ‘all roads lead to heaven.’ He emphatically warned men to heed the ‘One Way Only’ sign posted over a very narrow gate leading to eternal life. According to Jesus, there is no other way of salvation but through him.
The initial reaction of most to the claims of Jesus is to dismiss them as absurd or to become infuriated at his audacity. We live in a postmodern world which disdains dogmatism of any kind, particularly religious. The postmodern mind embraces pluralism, accepting all religious and philosophical systems as equally valid. According to postmodernists there is no such thing as universal, absolute, objective truth applicable to all men in all ages (except, of course, the philosophy of postmodernism). Postmodernism teaches that the only thing we can know for certain is that we can know nothing for certain.
It is against this backdrop that we examine the person of Jesus and his claims. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the Truth and the only way to God, claims that directly challenge todays postmodern thinking. So let us look at these claims and see if we can authenticate whether they are true. Is Jesus who he claimed to be—the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world?
Authentication Through Prophecy
One important issue raised by postmodernists is that of epistemology. That is, how can we know if something is true? The claims of Jesus are absolute and exclusive in nature, but that does not necessarily make them true. All that suggests is that it is possible that they are true. It is also possible they are not true. Any one can make claims, so how are we to determine if Jesus’ claims are true?
The answer is that there are many verifiable historical facts which authenticate the person and teachings of Jesus. There is no other reasonable explanation than that waht happened was divinely initiated and accomplished. What are these verifiable historical facts? The facts of biblical prophecy. Prophecy and its literal historical fulfillment distinguishes the Bible from all other religious writings and sets Jesus apart as the most unique man who ever lived. The life of Jesus was predicted in minute detail hundreds of years before he was born, something that cannot be said of anyone else in all of human history. How can we know if the claims of Jesus are in fact true? One certain way is through prophecy and its literal historical fulfillment. The Bible itself points to prophecy as proof that God himself is behind it:
‘Present your case,’ the Lord says. ‘Bring forward your strong arguments,’ the King of Jacob says. Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; As for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider them, and know their outcome; or announce to us what is coming. Declare the things that are going to come afterward, that we may know that you are gods (Is 41:21-23).
Behold, the former things have come to pass, now I declare new things; before they spring forth I proclaim them to you (Is. 42:9).
Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure (Is. 46:9-10).
I declared the former things long ago and they went forth from My mouth, and I proclaimed them. Suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. Therefore I declared them to you long ago, before they took place I proclaimed them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol has done them, and my graven image and my molten image have commanded them...You have heard; look at all this. And you, will you not declare it? I proclaim to you new things from this time, even hidden things which you have not known (Is 48:3, 5-6).
Jewish Expectations of a Messiah
The Old Testament contains hundreds of prophecies about one called the Messiah who would be identified by these prophecies. The Greek term for Messiah is the word Christ, meaning the anointed of God, who would ultimately fulfil the unique role of Israel’s Prophet, Priest and King. Between 1600 and 400 B.C. the prophets recorded over three hundred prophecies about the Messiah. This is how the Jews and Samaritans came to hold Messianic hopes and expectations. The New Testament biblical accounts demonstrate this.
Throughout the gospel accounts there are numerous references to the Messiah. Sometimes the term Christ or Messiah is used explicitly, while other messianic titles such as ‘the Son of God,’ ‘the Son of David,’ or ‘the Prophet’ are also used. The Jews testified to their belief in a Messiah by expressing both expectation and anticipation of his appearing. (Refer here for a documentation of the Old Testament passages which the ancient Jews have interpreted as referring either directly or indirectly to the Messiah and their commentary on those passages. And here for the documentation of over 400 Old Testament passages believed by the Jews to refer to the Messiah.).
The Gospel accounts themselves give abundant testimony to the Jewish belief in and expectation of a Messiah. For example, the apostle John recorded a conversation between the Jews and Jesus concerning their belief in the Messiah based on the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures: ‘We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever’ (Jn. 12:34). On another occasion the Jews asked concerning the Messiah: ‘Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’ (Jn. 7:42). Their faith in a coming Messiah is also clear from references to the Christ as the ‘one who is to come.’ John documents several of these:
‘Look, He is speaking publicly, and they are saying nothing to Him. The rulers do not really know that this is the Christ, do they? However, we know where this man is from; but whenever the Christ may come, no one knows where He is from.’...But many of the crowd believed in Him; and they were saying, ‘When the Christ comes, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?’ (Jn. 7:26-29, 31).
The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us” (Jn. 4:25).
Martha, sister of Mary of Bethany, confessed to Jesus:
‘Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world’ (Jn. 11:27).
After observing the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus the crowd declared:
‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world’ (Jn. 6:14).
At the birth of Jesus, the angels of heaven testified to the shepherds:
‘Today is born to you a Savior who is Christ the Lord’ (Lk. 2:11).
The Gospel of Luke records of Simeon:
And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Lk. 2:26).
When the wise men inquired where the king of the Jews was to be born, Matthew records Herod’s response:
Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel” ’ (Mt. 2:4-6).
On one occasion Jesus asked the Pharisees, ‘What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?’ (Mt.22:42). John the Baptist was asked his identity by the Pharisees. He replied, ‘I am not the Christ’ (Jn. 1:20). When Andrew first encountered Jesus he said to his brother Peter, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (Jn. 1:41). Philip, a Jew who eventually became a disciple of Jesus remarked to his friend Nathaniel: ‘We have found him of whom Moses and the prophets wrote’ (Jn. 1:45). Some of John the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus with this question, ‘Are you the expected One (the coming One), or do we look for someone else’ (Mt. 11:3). The Jews asked Jesus directly, ‘If you are the Christ, tell us plainly’ (Jn. 10:24). Peter testified of Jesus, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Mt. 16:18). On yet another occasion, after the crowds heard Jesus teach, they debated his identity among themselves:
Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, ‘This certainly is the Prophet.’ Others were saying, ‘This is the Christ.’ Still others were saying, ‘Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’ So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him (Jn 7:40-43).
During the trial of Jesus, the high priest asked him under oath, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One’ (Mk. 14:61)?
These passages make clear that at the time of Jesus, both Samaritans and Jews believed that the Old Testament prophesied of One who was to come who would be a great king and prophet, a deliverer, the son of God and Savior of the world (Jn. 4:42; Lk. 2:30-32). The Old Testament did in fact prophecy such an individual as foretold by the prophet Daniel who wrote this in the sixth century B.C.:
So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress (Dan. 9:25).
Throughout their entire history, the Jews have expressed their belief in a Messiah based on the prophetic scriptures.
The Claims of Jesus to be the Christ
Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. He often referred to himself as the ‘Son of Man,’ a direct reference to Daniel and a messianic title. He openly claimed that the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in him:
You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me (Jn. 5:39).
Beginning with Moses and all the prophets He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures (Lk. 24:27).
Now He said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled’ (Lk. 24:44).
In his conversation with the Samaritan woman Jesus boldly stated that he was the Messiah:
The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He’ (Jn. 4:25-26).
On several occasions Jesus claimed that much that happened in his life had been predicted by the Old Testament prophets:
At that time Jesus said to the multitudes, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled’ (Mt. 26:55-56).
When Peter professed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus confirmed his testimony (Mt. 16:16-19). At the trial of Jesus the high priest placed him under oath and demanded, ‘I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God? (Mt. 26:63). Matthew records that Jesus responded in the affirmative:
Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy’ (Mt. 26:64-65).
His claim was not lost on the Jews who were present. They understood him all too well and became so enraged that they beat and mocked him:
Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him, and said, ‘Prophesy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?’ (Mt. 26:67-68).
Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king to which he calmly answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king’ (Jn 18:37). The Jewish religious leaders demanded that Pilate put Jesus to death for claiming to be the Son of God:
The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God’ (Jn. 19:7).
It is important to understand that Jesus was not crucified for crimes committed but for what he claimed. Under oath he professed to be the Messiah and Son of God. The historical record testifies to two facts: the Jews expected a Messiah and Jesus claimed to be that Messiah. The gospel writers, especially Matthew, state that much of what happened in the life of Jesus was the direct fulfilment of the prophetic writings and that the prophets prophesied of Jesus (Mt.4:12-16; 12:15-21; 13:34-35; 21:4ff). These prophecies were not ambiguous and figurative but specific, clear and literal. They established an objective criteria by which the Messiah could be identified. As we have seen, the Jews often made mention of these prophecies when speaking of the Messiah.
So then, the prophecies provide us with a profile of the Messiah promised by God who would fulfil every prophetic criterion given by the Old Testament prophets.
Some argue that the Jews have historically rejected Jesus as the Messiah so he cannot be the legitimate fulfilment of prophecy. They suggest that the Christian Church has misinterpreted passages or have applied a messianic meaning to some that they claim actually refer to the nation of Israel. However, historically, the vast majority of Old Testament passages which the Christian Church insists have a messianic meaning have also been interpreted by Jewish talmudic, midrashic, targumic and rabbinic sources as pertaining to the Messiah.
Please refer here for a detailed documentation of the messianic interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies from those sources, and here for a listing over 400 passages from the Old Testament that were interpreted of the Messiah.
The issue is not one of interpretation but of whether Jesus fulfilled them and is, therefore, the predicted Messiah.
Others have argued against the validity of messianic prophecy and its literal historical fulfilment by suggesting that the prophecies were actually forgeries written after the fact. However, there is one historical fact which blows apart this argument. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the entire Hebrew Old Testament, was completed between 250 and 200 B.C. There has to be then, at the very least, a 200 year gap between the writing of these prophecies and the life of Jesus. The question that arises at this point has to do with the historical reliability of the Old and New Testaments. How can we be sure that the accounts of Jesus and his claims and teachings are accurate? Is it possible that the documents could have been corrupted over time? The archaeological and mauscript evidence attests to the overwhelming historical trustworthiness of both the Old and New Testaments. It can be said with confidence that the evidence affirms their accuracy. There has been no corruption.
The implications of prophecy are profound. If it can be demonstrated that messianic prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus, then there is historical proof that the claims of Jesus and the Bible are true—Jesus is the Son of God and the Bible is God’s word. The only possible and plausible explanation for fulfilled prophecy is that God himself initiated it and brought it to pass. Fulfilled prophecy provides incontrovertible proof that the Old and New Testaments are the word of God. We can trust its message and the teaching of Jesus. The Scriptures are proven to be God’s revelation and therefore the authoritative source of truth. In our postmodern world of conflicting philosophies and religions, the facts of prophecy dispel religious myth and spiritual confusion and point us to the author and source of truth. So let us begin our study of major prophecies and the profile they outline of the One called Messiah.
Jesus' Fulfilment of Messianic Prophecy
Genesis 3: The Protoevangelium
The first prophecy is found in Genesis, in a famous passage known as the ‘protoevangelium.’ It is a general messianic prophecy and reads as follows:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel (Gen. 3:15).
The promise is that God will send a man, the ‘seed of the woman,’ who will engage in spiritual combat with the great deceiver, Satan. This prophecy establishes the ultimate objective for the coming of the Messiah. The ‘seed of the woman’ will come to deal with the one who introduced sin into the universe and with sin itself. The Messiah will be specially anointed of God as a spiritual deliverer of mankind from Satan and sin. This will be his defining purpose. He will be wounded in the conflict, but Satan will be totally defeated. This prophecy predicts the ultimate victory of God’s anointed one over sin and Satan.
Although this is a general prophecy, the term ‘seed of the woman’ indicates that the prophesied one would be human. In Genesis 12, the ‘seed’ is further described as a direct descendant of Abraham. Galatians 3:19 teaches that the fulfilment of this prophecy is Jesus.
In his first epistle, the apostle John instructs that ‘the Son of God came for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil’ (1 Jn. 3:8). The author of Hebrews declares that Jesus came in order to ‘render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives’ (Heb. 2:14-15).
The main message of the New Testament is that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind. He is the one anointed by God to deal with sin and restore the kingdom of God in the hearts of men by delivering them from the guilt and power of sin, death, hell and the dominion of Satan. Though wounded in the conflict, the New Testament teaches that Jesus utterly defeated Satan and will one day cast him forever into hell. As prophesied, Jesus crushed his head:
When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (Col. 2:15).
The Family Lineage of the Messiah
1 Chronicles 17 and Genesis 12
Old Testament prophetic Scripture gives very detailed information about the family lineage of the Messiah, specific genealogical credentials by which he could be identified. The Jews knew this well. When Jesus asked the Pharisees: ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ (Mt. 22:42), their reply was, ‘The son of David’ (Mt. 22:42). John recorded this response from the Jews concerning the Messiah’s lineage, ‘Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David...?’ (Jn. 7:42). As indicated here, the Jews based their belief about messianic lineage on the prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament. There are numerous prophecies which predicted that the Messiah would be a direct descendant of King David. One of the most significant is found in 1 Chronicles 17:
When your days are fulfilled that you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up one of your descendants after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father and he shall be My son; and I will not take My lovingkindness away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. But I will settle him in My house and in My kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever (I Chron. 17:11-14).
While a portion of this prophecy was fulfilled in David’s son, Solomon, the greater portion was to be fulfilled in someone else. David was promised that one of his ‘seed’ would be given an eternal throne and would rule over the people of God forever. This was not fulfilled in Solomon. Prophets who lived long after Solomon continued to write of a yet future descendant of David who would fulfil the promises of 1 Chronicles 17. For example, Isaiah prophecied:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this (Is. 9:6-7).
Jeremiah gave a similar prophecy:
‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The Lord our righteousness”’ (Jer. 23:5-6).
Obviously then, the prophecy of 1 Chronicles 17 must point to the Messiah. Alfred Edersheim writes that this was the common Jewish interpretation as evidenced by their comments on Jeremiah 23:
On Jer. xxiii.5,6, the Targum has it: ‘And I will raise up for David the Messiah the Just.’ This is one of the passages from which, according to Rabbinic views, one of the Names of the Messiah is derived, viz.: Jehovah our Righteousness. So in the Talmud (Babha Bathra 75 b), in the Midrash on Ps. xxi.1, Prov. xix.21, and in that on Lamentations i.16 (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1971), p. 731).
The promised ‘seed,’ the Messiah/King, must be a direct descendant of King David. Later prophets, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, picked up on this theme, prophesying that God would one day raise up a Shepherd/King whom they actually referred to as David:
But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them (Jer. 30:9).
Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the Lord have spoken (Ezek. 34:23-24).
These prophecies reveal other important facts. First, if the Messiah is to be a descendant of David, then he must be a Jew. He must also come from the tribe of Judah and the family line of Jesse because this was David’s tribe and family line. Jesse was the father of David. This was detailed even before 1 Chronicles 17, beginning in Genesis 12 with the call of Abraham. In the first three verses of Genesis 12 we are informed that God singled out one man, Abram, with whom he made a covenant and of whom he made the head of a new nation, the Jews. In this covenant, God promised that in Abram’s ‘seed’ all the families of the earth would be blessed. The term ‘seed’ is singular, specifying a single individual who would be a direct descendent of Abraham. Like Genesis 3:15, this is a general prophecy but narrows the lineage of the Messiah to the Jewish people. The coming King would be a Jew, a direct descendant of Abraham. Out of all the nations in the entire world all are eliminated except the Jewish nation. The Old Testament further narrows the lineage of the Messiah in Genesis 49:10:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples (Gen. 49:10).
The name Shiloh was regarded by ancient Jewish commentators as a reference to the Messiah. Targum pseudo-Jonathan gives the following paraphrase of Genesis 49:10-12:
Kings and rulers shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor scribes teaching the Torah from his seed, until the time when the youngest of his sons, the king Messiah, shall come and because of him the peoples shall flow together. How lovely is the king Messiah, who is to rise from the house of Judah. He girds his loins and goes out to wage war on those who hate him, killing kings and rulers...and reddening the mountains with the blood of their slain. With his garments dipped in blood, he is like one who treads grapes in the wine press [cf. Isa 63:3]. More lovely are the eyes of the king Messiah than pure wine—not to see the uncovering of nakedness or the shedding of innocent blood. His teeth are purer than milk—not for eating what is torn or stolen. So his mountains are red (from vines) and his winepress red from wine and his hills white from grain and sheepfolds (The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation, Samson H. Levy, (New York: Hebrew Union College, 1974), p. 9).
The prophecy in Genesis 49 states that the Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah. Additionally, the idea of kingship is directly associated with the name Shiloh, for its says, ‘the ruler’s staff shall not depart from Judah.’ In Isaiah 11, the family line of the Messiah is further identified. He will be a descendant of the family line of Jesse within the tribe of Judah:
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist (Is. 11:1-5).
The Messiah would be a Jew, but not just any Jew. He would be from the tribe of Judah, the family line of Jesse and a direct descendant of King David. This is why both Matthew and Luke recorded the lineage of Jesus, to document the fact that Jesus fulfilled all the genealogical requirements which the Old Testament prophesied concerning the promised Messiah. His mother Mary was a direct descendant of King David making Jesus ‘a descendant (seed) of David, according to the flesh’ (Rom. 1:3) as Paul put it. Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, was also a direct descendant of David. The following is Matthew’s account of the genealogy of Jesus:
The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa. Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah. Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah. Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor. Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud. Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations (Mt. 1:1-17).
The Divine Nature of the Messiah
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this (Is. 9:6-7).
This prophecy was given some seven hundred years before Jesus was born. The recurring theme of the Messiah’s kingly rule is reiterated here, ‘the government shall rest upon his shoulders....There will be no end to the increase of his government or of peace on the throne of David and over his kingdom...’ The ancient rabbis also interpreted this passage as messianic:
The prophet saith to the house of David, A child has been born to us, a son has been given to us; and he has taken the law upon himself to keep it, and his name has been called from of old, Wonderful counsellor, Mighty God, He who lives forever, the Anointed one (or Messiah), in whose days peace shall increase upon us (The Targum of Isaiah, J.F. Stenning, Editor and Translator (Oxford:Clarendon, 1949), p. 32).
Another explanation: He said to him: ‘I have yet to raise up the Messiah,’ of whom it is written, For a child is born to us (Isa. IX, 5) (Midrash Rabbah Deuteronomy, Rabbi Dr. H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, Editors; Rev. Dr. J. Rabbinowitz, Translator (London: Soncino Press), I.20, p. 22).
This prophecy reveals another astounding fact concerning the identity and nature of the Messiah. Though human—‘a child is born, a son is given’—he would also be God himself. One of his names, ‘the Mighty God,’ indicates that he would have a divine nature. The term ‘mighty God’ is the Hebrew phrase El gibbor. It is a direct title of deity attributed to the Messiah. Keil and Delitzsch comment:
There is no reason why we should take El in this name to be the Messiah in any other sense than in Immanu-El; not to mention the fact that El in Isaiah is always a name for God...And finally, El gibbor was a traditional name of God which occurs as early as Deut. x.17, cf. Jer. xxxii.18, Neh. ix.32, Ps. xxiv.8, etc. The name gibbor is used here as an adjective, like shaddai, in El shaddai. The Messiah, then, is here designated ‘mighty God’ (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), Volume 7, Isaiah, pp. 252-253).
This prophecy also tells us that the Messiah would be called Wonderful Counsellor, Eternal Father and Prince of Peace. The Messiah would be the most unique man to ever live, possessing two natures—one human and one divine—all in one extraordinary person. This sets the Messiah apart from all others.
The prophecy of Isaiah 9 is an expansion of one given several centuries earlier by David in Psalm 2, a messianic Psalm which predicted the Messiah would be the Son of God. As in Isaiah 9, Psalm 2 emphasized the kingly office of the Christ. Quoting God, it reads: ‘But as for Me I have installed My king upon Zion, My holy mountain’ (Ps. 2:6). Then it reveals the nature of this king:
I (the Lord’s anointed) will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee’...Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry and you perish in the way (Ps. 2:7, 12).
This Psalm speaks of ‘the Lord (God) and his anointed’ (2:2). The term ‘anointed’ is a title for the Messiah. It speaks of the Christ who is the King and Son of God. This Psalm was generally accepted by the ancient Jews as a messianic prophecy. Note the following statements from the Talmud and the Midrash:
Our rabbis taught, The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, the son of David (May he reveal himself speedily in our days), ‘Ask of Me anything, and I will give to Thee,’ as it is said (Psalm 2:7, 8): ‘I will tell of the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, “Thou art My son; this day I have begotten Thee. Ask of Me and I will give the nations for Thine inheritance”’ ( The Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, Editor (London: Soncino Press), Seder Mo‘ed, Vol. III, Sukkah 52a, p. 247).
R. Jonathan said: Three persons were bidden ‘ask’, viz.: Solomon, Ahaz, and the King Messiah. Solomon: Ask what I shall give thee (I Kings III, 5). Ahaz: Ask thee a sign (Isa. VII, 11). The King Messiah: Ask of Me, etc. (Ps. II, 8) (Midrash Rabbah, Genesis, Rabbi Dr. H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, Editors; Rabbi Dr. H. Freedman, Translator (London: Soncino Press), Vol. I, XLIV.8, pp. 365-366).
The prophecy of Psalm 2 reveals that the rule of this divine King would encompass the entire earth. He would be given the nations as his inheritance and would subdue the rebellion of men against God. He would be more than human; he is prophesied here to be the son of God—God in human flesh. While the term ‘son of God’ is occasionally used in Scripture metaphorically to refer to kings, the term ‘son’ as used Psalm 2:7, is not figurative but literal. Note the phrase which follows and explains its meaning. The verse reads, ‘Thou art My Son’ and is immediately followed by, ‘Today I have begotten Thee.’ The term ‘begotten’ in the Old and New Testaments overwhelmingly means a literal begetting, either in a spiritual or physical sense. This emphasizes the literal truth of the prophecy in Isaiah 9:6 which declares that the child and son to be born would possess a divine nature.
The New Testament in Acts 13, quoting the apostle Paul, applies this passage from Psalm 2 to as a direct reference to the person of Jesus in the context of his resurrection from the dead. In other words, Paul applies the statement of being begotten by God as a prophecy of the resurrection of the Messiah. But the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews quotes from Psalm 2:7 as a reference to the unique nature of Jesus as the Son of God, that He is in fact, God incarnate. We will look in more detail at the reference from Hebrews where we deal with the New Testament application of these prophesies.
Psalm 45 is another Psalm which is messianic in character and which reveals the divine nature of the Messiah. Verse 1 addresses ‘the King.’ This refers to the Messiah and not Solomon. We know this because the psalmist addresses this King as God and speaks of his holy character:
Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness...(Ps. 45:6).
The Hebrew word Elohim in verse 6 is one of the names of God. The New Testament book of Hebrews quotes this same passage in reference to the Son of God, applying it to Jesus:
But of the Son he says: Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom (Heb. 1:8).
Psalm 45 also describes the holy character of this king. He lives for the promotion of truth and righteousness:
Gird Thy sword on Thy thigh, O Mighty One, in Thy splendor and Thy majesty! And in Thy majesty ride on victoriously, for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness (Ps. 45:3-4).
Psalm 110, also a messianic Psalm, clearly implies the divinity of King Messiah. The Psalm begins with, ‘The LORD says to my lord: “Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet” (Ps. 110:1). David, the author, quotes God as speaking to someone David refers to as his ‘lord’. The question is, Who is David referring to and what is the meaning of the word lord? This Psalm was generally understood by the Jews to refer to the Messiah as evidenced by the question Jesus put to the Pharisees:
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, ‘What do you think of the Christ, whose son is He?’ They said to Him, ‘The son of David.’ (Mt. 22:42).
When Jesus asked the Pharisees about the lineage of the Messiah they responded correctly that he would be a direct descendent of David. Jesus then asked another question, quoting from Psalm 110:
He said to them, ‘Then how does David in the Spirit call Him “Lord,” saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet”? If David then calls Him “Lord,” how is He his son?’(Mt. 22:43-45).
When Jesus quoted from Psalm 110 in reference to the Messiah the Pharisees did not challenge his interpretation. The ancient Jewish Midrash also interpreted this psalm as messianic:
R. Yudan said in the name of R. Hama: In the time–to–come, when the Holy One, blessed be He, seats the lord Messiah at His right hand, as is said The Lord saith unto my lord: “Sit thou at My right hand” (Ps. 110:1), and seats Abraham at His left, Abraham’s face will pale, and he will say to the Lord: “My son’s son sits at the right, and I at the left!” Thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, will comfort Abraham, saying: “Thy son’s son is at My right, but I, in a manner of speaking, am at thy right”: The Lord [is] at thy right hand (Ps. 110:5). Hence Thy gentleness hath made me great (The Midrash on Psalms, William G. Braude, Translator (New Haven: Yale, 1959), Yale Judaica Series, Volume XIII, Leon Nemoy, Editor, Book One, Psalm 18:29, p. 261).
This Psalm could not refer to David himself because David is speaking in the name of God and makes reference to a third person whom he calls ‘my lord.’ Furthermore, in verse 4 of this psalm God, again addressing this person says:
The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’ (Ps. 110:4).
David was never a priest. The only person who would embody the offices of priest and king in his own person was the Messiah. As Van Gronigen comments:
The priesthood spoken of in the psalm is for perpituity just as David’s throne and his dynasty...Yahweh is addressed as adonay (Lord) as in verse 1 (adoni). The sovereign Master, the victorious King, is also addressed as the eternal Priest. In Israel, the functions performed by the three divinely established offices were assumed by specific individuals such as Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and David in unique circumstances. When, however, the priesthood was well established and functioned properly, only the priests officiated; no anointed king did so. Thus, to consider a king in Israel a ‘priest forever’ is entirely contrary to biblical evidence and Israelite practices. The eternal priesthood of the sovereign Master is not Aaronic, that is, a man and house elected by God to serve in the office from generation to generation within the confines of Israel. The Hebrew phrase ‘al–dibrati malki–sedek (according to the order of Melchidezek) denotes a priesthood of another kind (Gerard Van Groningen, Messianic Revelation in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), pp. 394-395).
Additionally, when God says to this person, ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies beneath your feet’, it correlates with another messianic prophecy in Daniel 7 where the Messiah appears before God in heaven and is given dominion and authority over all nations:
I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed (Dan. 7:13-14).
While it is clear that this Psalm is a reference to the Messiah, the question arises, What does the psalm mean when it refers to the Messiah as lord in verse 1? One of the keys to a proper understanding of this psalm and in particular verse 1 is understanding the challenge Jesus issued to the Pharisees in his question to them, ‘If David then calls Him “Lord,” how is He his son?’ (Mt. 22:43-45). The passage goes on to say that the Pharisees could not give Jesus a response. It says, ‘No one was able to answer him a word, neither did any man from that day forth ask him any more questions’ (Mt. 22:46). What Jesus was getting at is the nature of the Messiah. If David calls him ‘lord’, then he must be divine, because only God is a higher authority than the king. The Pharisees were only too aware that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and that he claimed to be God. On several occasions the Jews tried to stone him for blasphemy ‘because you being a man, make yourself out to be God’ (Jn. 10:33). In quoting Psalm 110 Jesus makes the point that the Scriptures teach that the Messiah would be more than a human authority. As we have seen, this is affirmed from Psalm 2 and Isaiah 9:6 which teach that the Messiah is divine and the Son of God. Delitzsch give these comments on Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees and his use of Psalm 110:
The inference which is left for the Pharisees to draw rests upon two premises, which are granted, that Ps. cx. is Davidic, and that it is prophetico-Messianic, i.e. that in it the future Messiah stands objectively before the mind of David…Since the prophetico-Messianic character of the Psalm was acknowledged at that time (even as the later synagogue, in spite of the dilemma into which this Psalm brought it in opposition to the church, has never been able entirely to avoid this confession), the conclusion to be drawn from this Psalm must have been felt by the Pharisees themselves, that the Messiah, because the Son of David and Lord at the same time, was of human and at the same time of superhuman nature; that it was therefore in accordance with Scripture if this Jesus, who represented Himself to be the predicted Christ, should as such profess to be the Son of God and of divine nature (Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, Reprinted 1978), Volume V, Psalms, by F. Delitzsch, Volume 3, Psalm CX, pp. 184-185).
If he was then David’s lord if he was his superior—if he had an existence at that time how could he be descended from him? They could not answer him. Nor is there any way of answering the question but by the admission that the Messiah was divine as well as human; that he had an existence at the time of David, and was his lord and master, his God and king, and that as man he was descended from him (Barnes’ Notes, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft).
There are those who object to the suggestion that Psalm 110:1, The LORD said to my lord’, supports the notion of the divine nature of the Messiah. The first word for lord in this verse, it is argued, is the Tetragrammaton (YHWH), the most revered name for God. The second word is the Hebrew word ladonee which always refers to man’s authority and never to God. For example, in Genesis 24:54 the word ladonee is used with reference to Abraham and in 1 Kings 1:31 of king David as human masters or lords. The conclusion is then drawn that Psalm 110:1 could not possibly have the connotation of deity. However, the meaning of a word must be derived, not only from its usage employed throughout the Scriptures but also by its context. In this case, the context of Psalm 110:1 is with reference to the Messiah which puts the meaning of the word in a completely different category. This is especially true when we note that Psalm 2 and Isaiah 9 clearly teach the divine nature of the Messiah. In this case, the word lord (ladonee), though applied to a human being, also carries the meaning of the divine because the Messiah is predicted to be God and man. Thus when Jesus challenged the Pharisees with his question, he was challenging them with the Scriptural teaching that the Messiah, though son of David, would also be Lord of lords and King of kings, the Son of God and Lord of heaven and earth. The context in which a word is used is a major factor in determining its meaning.
There is also a second possible interpretation of Jesus’ words to the Pharisees and the meaning of Psalm 110:1. Those who object to the use of the term ladonee as a reference to deity state that original Hebrew word is, in fact, ladonee. But these objectors fail to mention that there is a difference between the Hebrew words as they appear in Hebrew Bibles today and when they were originally written. The Hebrew language is comprised of all consonants. When originally written there were no vowels. Today, however, there are vowel points which have been inserted into the text as aids for pronunciation. Where did these originate? The vowel points originated with the Massoretes beginning around the fourth century A.D. and became finalized around 700 to 900 A.D. This means that at the time of Jesus there were no vowel points in the Hebrew text. The Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, contain none. This is a significant issue regarding the interpretation of Psalm 110:1, ‘The Lord said to my Lord.’ As we have noted the first word Lord is the tetragrammaton (YHWH), the highest and most revered name for God, indicated as LORD in all capital letters in many English translations such as the NASB. The second word lord is a different Hebrew word. The root is adn which means lord or master and can be used of both God or man. There are two other words which are forms of the word adn that are frequently used in the Old Testament. The first is adoni (pronounced adonee) which is used of men in positions of authority such as a king over his subjects. This word is indicated in English translations as ‘lord’ in all lower case letters. The second word is adonai which is always used with reference to God. This word is translated in English as ‘Lord’ with a capital ‘L’, to distinguish it from adonee. The difference in spelling between adonee and adonai is a difference in a single vowel point which was inserted in the text at the very earliest some 400 years after the time of Jesus. What this means is that if one were reading a Hebrew Bible at the time of Jesus there would be no distinction between the word adonai and adonee in the text. And this could very well have direct bearing on Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees about Psalm 110:1, ‘If David then calls him ‘Lord’, how is he his son’ (Mt. 22:45)? It is quite possible that what Jesus said was not, ‘Why does David call him adonee?’, but ‘Why does David call him adonai?’ That is, God. In the original language there are no vowel points and therefore the assertion that the original Hebrew is adonee is misleading. The original simply says adn. The vowel points were added hundreds of years later. This interpretation is just a possibility. But either way, be it adonee or adonai, the meaning of lord in referring to the Messiah carries the idea of divinity for he is the Son of God.
This psalm is quoted more than any other in the New Testament in reference to Jesus as its fulfilment both as priest and king (Mt. 22:41-45; Mk. 12:35-37; Lk. 20:41-44; Acts 2:34-36; Heb. 1:13, 5:6, 10, 6:20, 7:11, 15, 17, 21). The New Testament proclaims that Jesus has been raised from the dead and has ascended as the Messiah to the right hand of God where he reigns as an eternal Priest and King of kings and Lord of lords. As Peter declared:
For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.” ’ Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2;34-36).
The Claims of Jesus and the New Testament
The consistent teaching of the Old Testament prophecies is that the Messiah would be established by God as the rightful Lord and Ruler over heaven and earth, and would be the Son of God. This is why the Jews, from common laborer to highly educated priest and scholar, associated the term ‘son of God’ with the Christ. For example, Peter confessed this of Jesus, ‘Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God’ (Mt. 16:16). Nathaniel made the following declaration to Jesus, ‘You are the son of God; You are the King of Israel’ (Jn. 1:49). Martha testified to Jesus, ‘I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world’ (Jn. 11:27). John the Baptist publicly proclaimed of Jesus, ‘I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God’ (Jn. 1:34). At the trial of Jesus the high priest expressed his understanding of the Messiah when he commanded, ‘I adjure you by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God?’ (Mt. 26:63). Jesus affirmed under oath that he was indeed the Messiah and Son of God.
This brings us to the claims Jesus himself made. Throughout the duration of his ministry, Jesus openly claimed to be the Son of God. John 10 records an incident when the Jews ewre on the verge of stoning Jesus for his claims. They understood him completely and accused him of blasphemy:
The Jews took up stones to stone Him. Jesus answered them, ‘I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?’ The Jews answered Him, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You being a man, make Yourself out to be God’ (Jn. 10:31-33).
Jesus claimed that to see him was to see the Father:
Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father?”’ (Jn. 14:8-9).
Jesus claimed a direct correlation between himself and God:
And Jesus cried out and said, ‘He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me’...‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me’...He who hates Me hates My Father also (Jn. 12:44-45; 13:20; 15:23).
Jesus taught that our true attitude to God will be reflected in our attitude towards him. If we receive him we receive God; if we are submitted to him we are submitted to God. If we love him we love God; if we are indifferent to him, reject or hate him, we are indifferent to, reject or hate God. So, when Jesus said, ‘He who is not for Me is against Me’ (Mt. 12:30), he meant that all who are opposed to him are opposed to God. The Jews understood the implications of his teaching. John records their reaction:
For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but was also calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God (Jn. 5:18).
The religious leaders said this to Pilate regarding Jesus’ claim:
We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God (Jn. 19:7).
The title ‘son of God’ as applied by Jesus to Himself meant far more to the Jews than a figurative title of authority as applied to a king or ruler under the authority of God. It carried the claim of divinity, and is why the Jews condemned Jesus for blasphemy. In addition to his claim to divine sonship, Jesus also claimed to be a king. Pilate asked him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ (Jn. 18:33).
The following interchange then occurred between Jesus and Pilate:
Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.’ Pilate therefore said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king’ (Jn. 18:36-37).
Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and affirmed it under oath. He was crucified by the Jews because of it. The Old Testament prophesied the Messiah would be the Son of God. Jesus claimed he was the fulfilment of these prophecies, and the New Testament teaches that he is, as he claimed, the Son of God.
Luke 1 and John 1
This passage records the angelic visitation to Mary, the announcement that she would be the mother of the Messiah. The words spoken to her by the angel pull together numerous prophetic threads we have examined so far regarding the lineage, nature and kingly rule of the Messiah, as he declares them to be fulfilled in the person and birth of Jesus. And the words spoken shed a great deal of light on the meaning of the term, begotten, in relation to the scriptural identity of Jesus to be the son of God. The angel says to Mary:
The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God’ (Lk. 1:30-35).
Note what the angel tells her: this child will be direct descendant of king David and his reign will be eternal. He will be called the son of God, referring to the nature of the child. The angel informed Mary that the Holy Spirit would ‘overshadow’ her, a virgin, and she would conceive a son. The passage says for that reason the holy offspring or the holy thing begotten would be called the son of God. The term ‘begotten’ is a form of the Greek word gennao which means to beget a child. What the text literally says is, 'for this reason the holy thing begotten will be called the son of God.' This refers back to Psalm 2 where the prophet, in referring to the Messiah, quotes God as saying to him, ‘Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee’ (Ps. 2:7). The word for ‘begotten’ in Psalm 2 is translated by the Septuagint as a form of the same Greek word found in Luke 1, gennao. Thus, the New Testament declares that the virgin Mary conceived a child, begotten by the Holy Spirit, and for this reason the son to whom she gave birth is the Son of God by nature, not just by title. This declaration is the consistent teaching of the entire New Testament:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:1, 14).
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped (Phil. 2:5-6).
He is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15).
For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (Col. 2:9).
But of the Son He says, ‘Thy throne, O God (Elohim), is forever and ever...And, ‘Thou, Lord (YHWH), in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of Your hands (Heb. 1:8, 10 ).
In John 1:14 the apostle John refers to the Word (logos), Jesus, as becoming flesh and as such was the only begotten of the Father. The word begotten used by John is a form of the Greek word, gennao—the same word used in Psalm 2 and Luke 1. But here John adds the prefix to the word to communicate uniqueness, that Jesus is the only begotten son. In all of human history, he alone is the only begotten of God. The use of the word begotten then in John 1 is a direct reference to the incarnation of Christ, to his becoming flesh. This harkens back to the angel's declaration to Mary in Luke 1 that the child conceived in her would be begotten by the Holy Spirirt, by God, and that for that reason the holy child would be called the Son of the Most High. He would be the most unique man ever born for he would not have a human father but would be the only begotten son of God—begotten of God, conceived by God. What John is clearly saying is that Jesus is the Son of God by nature, not just in the sense of having a unique title as the Messiah of God. He is by nature, God and man, just as Isaiah 9 predicted he would be and the Son of God as predicted by Psalm 2.
In the book of Hebrews, the author gives a direct quote from Psalm 2:7 in reference to Jesus, saying that what was spoken there was spoken about him by God:
When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten you?' And again, 'I will be a Father to Him and He will be a Son to Me' (Hebrews 1:3-5).
There are those who argue that the reference of Psalm 2 here has to do with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus as the Chist to the place of exaltation and not to His nature as such. But I would argue that the immediate context both before and after this passage suggests that the primary application of Psalm 2:7 to the Messiah being the son of God and begotten of God by the author of Hebrews has to do precisely with the issue of the incarnation, to the nature of Jesus as the Messiah, that he is indeed divine. In verse 2 and at the beginning of verse 3 it speaks of Jesus as the Son of God and that of his nature as Creator of all things and of being the 'radiance of God's glory and exact representation of His nature'. In verse 4 it says he has received a more excellent name than the angels, the name Son, precisely because of the nature of who he is. And this is where the author of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14. But the reference here to Psalm 2:7 would have a primary emphasis on the nature of the Messiah as the Son of God as opposed to his state of exaltation because the reference to 2 Samuel immediately following the reference to Psalm 2 has the relationship of the Messiah to God as his father, 'I will be a Father to Him and He will be a Son to Me.' Additionally, in Hebrews 1:6 we are told that all the angels of God are commanded to worship the Son, the worship that is due to God alone. And then the author of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 102:25 and states that what is written there is a direct reference to the Son which refers to him as none other than Yahweh:
But of the Son He says...You LORD (Yahweh), in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth and the heavens are the work of Your hands (Hebrews 1:8, 10).
This is an explicit declaration of the deity of Jesus, the Christ. All that comes after the author of Hebrews' reference to Psalm 2:7 has to do with the nature of the Messiah as the Son of God, in addition to the emphasis placed on His nature before the reference. And therefore, the primary application of the emaning of Psalm 2:7 to the Messiah being the Son of God and begotten of God has to do with the nature of the Messiah. He is the Son of God—begotten of God—who by nature is God and, as such, is worthy of worship.
Indirect Claims to Deity
In addition to the direct claims of deity made by Jesus, the New Testament offers numerous indirect proofs. First, Jesus received and accepted worship due to God alone. On numerous occasions those healed by Jesus responded by worshipping him. John provides this instance:
Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.’ And he said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped Him (Jn. 9:35-38).
Again, the book of Hebrews teaches that the angels of God worship Jesus:
And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him’ (Heb. 1:6).
The word for worship used here is the same one used by Jesus when he quoted the Old Testament which prescribes worship to God alone: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only’ (Mt. 4:10).
Second, the New Testament presents Jesus as the Creator of the universe and sustainer of all that exists:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (Jn. 1:1-3).
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:16-17).
We must honestly face these claims. They are either true or false. The Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would be begotten of God and the Son of God. The Gospels declare that Jesus was begotten by the Holy Spirit and is the Son of God. Jesus himself claimed to be the Son of God and the New Testament affirms his claim. C.S. Lewis made these provocative remarks about the claims of Jesus:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with this patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1947), pp. 40-41).
The Son of Man
As we have seen, one common title for the Messiah was ‘Son of Man.’ This messianic title originated with the prophet Daniel (Dan. 7:13-14). A common theme of the earlier prophets was that the Messiah would be a ruler over God’s people. Daniel took it a step further. Recording a vision he received from God that spanned all of world history he gave the following prediction of the one he calls the Son of Man who would receive eternal dominion, not just over Israel, but over the entirety of the world:
I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed (Dan. 7:13-14).
The title, Son of Man, was regarded as messianic by the Jews. Daniel’s vision was commonly applied by them to the Messiah. For example, in the Gospel of John, Jesus was asked by the Jews, ‘We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can you say, “The Son of Man must be lifted up”’ (Jn. 12:34)?
The Son of Man prophecy of Daniel was the basis of many Jewish apocalyptic works written during the two centuries before Jesus. These writings reflected the fundamental beliefs of mainstream Judaism. Historically, Jewish rabbis interpreted this passage in Daniel of the Messiah:
R. Alexandri said: R. Joshua opposed two verses: it is written, ‘And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven’ [Daniel 7:13]; whilst (elsewhere) it is written, ‘(behold, thy king cometh unto thee...) lowly, and riding upon an ass!’ - If they are meritorious, (he will come) ‘with the clouds of heaven’; if not, ‘lowly and riding upon an ass’ (The Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, Editor (London: Soncino Press), Seder Nezikin, Vol. III, Sanhedrin 98a, pp. 663-664).
...and it is also written, I saw in the night visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the Ancient of days, and he was brought near before Him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him (Dan. 7:13, 14).
In another comment, the verse is read I will tell of the decree: The Lord said unto me: Thou art My son...Ask of Me, and 1 will give the nations for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession (Ps. 2:7, 8). R. Yudan said: All these goodly promises are in the decree of the King, the King of kings, who will fulfill them for the lord Messiah (The Midrash on Psalms, William G. Braude, Translator (New Haven: Yale, 1959), Yale Judaica Series, Volume XIII, Leon Nemoy, Editor, Book One, Psalm 2:9).
For Thou shalt make him most blessed for ever (Ps. 21:7) means that all the nations shall bless themselves in the king Messiah (Psalm 21). Thou shalt make him exceeding glad with Thy countenance (Ps. 21:7). R. Berechiah said in the name of R. Samuel: One verse reads of the king Messiah that One, like the son of man...came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before Him (Dan. 7:13)...(The Midrash on Psalms, William G. Braude, Translator (New Haven: Yale, 1959), Yale Judaica Series, Volume XIII, Leon Nemoy, Editor, Book One, Psalm 21.5).
Jesus repeatedly referred to himself as the Son of Man. Here are just a few instances:
For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost (Lk. 19:10)
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mk 10:45).
Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, ‘Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”; or to say, “Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.’ And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone...(Mk. 2:8-12).
Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.’ And he said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped Him (Jn. 9:35–38).
And while they were gathered together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day (Mt. 17:22–23).
Jesus purposefully called himself the Son of Man which was a direct appeal to Daniel and a claim of Messiahship. Under oath at his trial, Jesus testified to Caiaphas that he was the Messiah, backing up his claim by quoting Daniel:
Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy’ (Mt. 26:64-65).
There can be no doubt. Jesus claimed to be the prophesied and long awaited Messiah of Israel. As to the fulfilment of the prophecy in Daniel 7, the New Testament states that after his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven where he now rules over the nations of the world. He will return, according to another prophecy in Daniel, to physically subdue all rebellion against God and to usher in his eternal kingdom:
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever (Dan. 2:44).
This emphasis on a kingdom of world wide dominion and as a light to the nations is a repeated declaration in prophesies related tom the Messiah. In Psalms 2 and Isaiah 9 it says:
I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware (Ps 2:7-9).
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this (Is. 9:6-7).
This is the theme reiterated in the angel's declaration to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah, the Son of God:
And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end (Lk. 1:31-33).
Here the angel proclaims the Messiah to be a King in fulfilment of the prophecies given in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 49:7 Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be a light to the nations of the world to bring salvation to the ends of the earth:
He says, 'It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make you a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, to the One abhorred by the nation, to the Servant of Rulers, kings will see and arise, princes also will bow down, because of the Lord Who is faithful, the Holy Oner of Israel who has chosen You (Is. 49:6-7).
This prophecy is predicting that a Jewish Messiah will be the light of salvation to the Gentile nations and that His kindom will therefore have a significant spiritual application. Jesus proclaimed of Himself:
I am the light of the world.; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (Jn. 14:6).
I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (Jn. 14:6).
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears Mty word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life (Jn. 5:24).
Born of a Virgin
In looking at the uniqueness of the Messiah, one feature had to do with his divine nature, another with his miraculous conception. Luke 1 records that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus. Isaiah prophesied:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Is 7:14) (ASV Translation).
The apostle Matthew reminds us that Jesus’ conception was a direct fulfillment of the prophecy given by Isaiah:
Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us’ (Mt. 1:22-23).
In translating this passage, the Septuagint translators used the Greek word parthenos which means an unmarried young woman, a virgin. These Jewish translators understood that God’s miraculous sign would be a virgin who would conceive and bear a son whose title would be Immanu-El, ‘God with us.’
The Messiah Will Come From Bethlehem
But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting (Mic. 5:2. ASV Translation).
This was a well known prophecy among the Jews. The Targum Jonathan interpreted this prophecy as messianic:
And you, O Bethlehem Ephrath, you who were too small to be numbered among the thousands of the house of Judah, from you shall come forth before Me the Messiah, to exercise dominion over Israel, he whose name was mentioned from before, from the days of creation (Targum Jonathan. Found in Samson Levey, The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation (Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles, Jerusalem: Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion, 1974), p. 93).
There are a number of important points emphasized in this messianic prophecy. First, it specifies the literal place from which the Messiah would ‘come forth’—from Bethlehem Ephrata, which was also the birthplace of king David. The prophecy does not specify whether ‘come forth’ means his birth or place of childhood, residence or ministry. It can mean any of these. But by birth or residence, the prophet Micah predicted that the Messiah would ‘come forth’ from Bethlehem, thereby identifying him with king David. That this prophecy was universally understood by the Jews to refer to the Messiah is seen in the comments of the Jews in the Gospels. When the wise men inquired of king Herod as to the birthplace of the king of the Jews, Herod, in turn, asked the scribes, who informed him that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They quoted Micah as confirmation, using the term ‘come forth’ to refer to his birthplace. The historical record gives the following account:
And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. And they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet, ‘And you Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel’ (Mt. 2:4-6).
It is recorded in John’s Gospel that certain Jews questioned the legitimacy of Jesus as the Messiah because he ministered in Galilee. Though they misunderstood the application of the prophecy, they knew that according to the prophet Micah, the Messiah would come from Bethlehem and that this was how he would be identified:
Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David and from Bethlehem, the village where David was (Jn. 7:42)?
On another occasion, Jewish leaders mocked the claim that Jesus was the Messiah because they knew he had grown up in Nazareth in Galilee and had ministered in that region. Apparently they assumed he had been born there. They never bothered to research, but they did recognize that the prophet had given very specific criteria for proving who was the Christ. They challenged the crowd with these words:
Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee (Jn. 7:52).
The historical record verifies that Jesus was born in Bethlehem:
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn (Lk. 2:1-7).
Micah’s prophecy reiterates a fact first given in Genesis 49:10 that the promised Messiah would be a king. However, we are told something additional that is truly astounding. The prophet foretells of one who is more than human, one who has existed from eternity. This, of course, implies deity, for only God is eternal. This conforms perfectly with Isaiah’s revelation of a coming king whom the prophet declared to be God incarnate.
The Time in History of the Messiah’s Coming Foretold
The Old Testament Scriptures not only give us an account of the lineage and birthplace of the Messiah, but they also predict the precise time in history when the Messiah will come:
Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined (Dan. 9:24-26).
This prophecy was made during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. Seventy years had been decreed by God for their exile in Babylon. The time decreed for that exile was coming to an end when the angel Gabriel came to Daniel with this prophecy concerning the Jewish nation, their holy city Jerusalem and the Messiah. The prophecy specified a future period of seventy weeks in which the precise time of the Messiah’s coming was foretold:
So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing (Dan. 9:25-26).
Daniel predicted that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild the city of Jerusalem until the Messiah would be 69 weeks. To rightly compute Daniel’s time frame we must understand what is meant by the word ‘week.’ This is the Hebrew word shabua meaning a unit of seven, so 70 weeks would be rightly translated as seventy sevens or a total of 490. In the Old Testament this meant either days or years with the context usually providing the proper interpretation. In this case the context indicates weeks of years, so that 69 weeks would be 483 years. The Theologial Wordbook of the Old Testament provides the following background on Daniel’s use and meaning of the term ‘week’:
This term occurs twenty times in the OT, always indicating a period of seven. Indeed, the word obviously comes from sheba‘ (q.v.) and could literally be translated always as ‘seven-period’...in Dan. 9:24,25,26,27 it denotes a period of seven years in each of its appearances in these four verses. This is proven by the context wherein Daniel recognizes that the seventy-year period of captivity is almost over. The land had been fallow for seventy years and thus repaid the Lord for the seventy sabbatical years owed to him for the prior seventy periods of seven years (Dan. 9:2; Jer. 25.12; cf. II Chr. 36.21). Just as Daniel is in prayer concerning this matter, the angel Gabriel appears and informs him that Israel’s restoration will not be complete until she goes through another seventy periods-of-seven, shabua (Dan 9.24ff). Note also the apparent reference in Dan. 12:12 to half of Daniel’s last seventy (9:27); it is 1290 days, approximately three and a half years. Thus here it means years” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Editor (Chicago: Moody, 1980), Volume 2, shãbôa‘, p. 899).
Furthermore, Marcus Jastrow has documented the Rabbinic interpretation of the word shabua from the writings of the Targums, the Talmuds and the Midrash as meaning weeks of days and years. His dictionary entry for shabua reads:
1) a period of seven days, week...2) ‘year week’, a period of seven years, septennate (the jubilee being divided into seven septennates); also the seventh year, Sabbatical year (A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, Marcus Jastrow (Judaica Press: 1971).
Daniel predicted that the Messiah would appear sixty-nine weeks or 483 years after the decree to rebuild and restore Jerusalem. There has been much debate as to the precise decree to which this prophecy referred. Historically, there were four decrees given by kings of Media/Persia that related to the Jews but only one related to the rebuilding of the city, the decree of Artaxerxes to Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:1-8). Previous decrees were issued by Cyrus (538-536 B.C.), Darius (521 B.C.), and Artaxerxes to Ezra (458 B.C.), but those related to the Temple. It was the final decree of Artaxerxes to Nehemiah which addressed the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem. This decree was issued in 445 to 444 B.C. Thus, the prophetic countdown begins at this date culminating with the appearance of the Messiah some 483 years later. In order to accurately calculate the time span it is necessary to examine how years were calculated in the Jewish culture. Their common practice, also true in most ancient cultures, was to calculate years based on a 360 day calendar. The Bible uses this 360 day reckoning for years. For example, Paul Feinberg points out:
...in Genesis 7:11...it is recorded that the Flood began on the seventeenth day of the second month, and Genesis 8:4 says that it ended on the seventeenth day of the seventh month. Both Genesis 7:24 and 8:3 specify that this was 150 days (this shows that there were thirty day months) (Paul Feinberg, Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981), p. 215).
Additionally, a number of Scriptures give instruction on the length of time that is to be devoted to mourning for the dead (Num. 20:29; Deut. 21:13, 34:8). The time stipulated is a ‘full month’ (Deut. 21:13) which totalled thirty days.
Following the 483 years and the coming of the Messiah, Daniel predicted two other significant events. First, the Messiah would be ‘cut off and have nothing’ (Dan. 9:25). The term ‘cut off’ is a Hebrew idiom meaning to be killed. The Hebrew word is karath, meaning to cut off, cut down, or cut asunder, the implication being to destroy or consume. The phrase ‘have nothing’ can be translated ‘but not for himself’ which is how the King James reads. Thus, the prediction is that the Messiah would suffer a violent death and that it would be for the sake of others. The second significant event prophesied by Daniel is that following the death of the Messiah, Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed. Historically we know that 70 A.D. is the exact date when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans. So, the Messiah had to come before 70 A.D. and some 483 years after the decree of 445-444 B.C.
This prophecy also lists six major purposes to be accomplished within the designated time given by Daniel: ‘To finish transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.’ From a Jewish Old Testament perspective, the only way for atonement for sin to be made was by a blood sacrifice (Lev. 17:11). This prophecy, then, predicted a sacrifice for sin so monumental that it would make a complete atonement for sin; it would make an end of sin.
It was none other than Jesus, who, approximately 483 years after Artaxerxes’ decree, walked the dusty earth of Israel, a Jew, born in Bethlehem, descendant of king David, who claimed to be the Messiah and the Son of God. He suffered a violent death at the hand of the Jews, claimed it was for mankind, was proclaimed by John the Baptist to be the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. After his death, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Romans—all predicted hundreds of years before he was born. What other Jew prior to 70 A.D. meets these criteria?
The Messiah Will Be Preceded by a Messenger
Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3
Both Isaiah and Malachi predicted that the Messiah would be preceded by one who would preach a strong message of repentance to prepare the hearts of the people. Malachi referred to the Messiah as ‘the Lord whom you seek’ and ‘the Angel of the Covenant.’ These prophecies read:
A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken’(Is. 40:3-5).
‘Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,’ says the LORD of hosts (Mal. 3:1).
The hallmark of the message preached by John the Baptist was repentance, imploring the crowds to prepare for One who was to come after him. His ministry was so powerful that the Pharisees questioned him as to his identity. Was he the Messiah? John denied it but did affirm himself as the one who was the prophetic forerunner of the Messiah. The apostle John records the following conversation between the Baptist and the Pharisees:
This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ They asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ And he said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?’ He said, ‘I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as Isaiah the prophet said.’ Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, and said to him, ‘Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ John answered them saying, ‘I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. ‘It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie’ (Jn. 1:19-27).
On another occasion John said to certain of his disciples:
You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him’ (Jn. 3:28).
The apostle Matthew confirmed that John the Baptist was the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy:
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight!’ (Mt. 3:1-3).
John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah.
The Messiah Will Be a Prophet Like Moses
In Deuteronomy 18, Moses foretold that God would one day raise up a prophet like himself to lead his people:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’ The Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him (Deut. 18:15-18) (ASV Translation).
The Jews commonly believed that this prophecy applied to the Messiah. He would not only be a righteous king and the Son of God but a mighty prophet who would faithfully declare God’s truth. The woman of Samaria testified to this when she said, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us’ (Jn. 4:25). Her statement, ‘He will declare all things to us,’ refers to the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18: ‘I will put My words in His mouth and He will speak all that I command Him.’
As mentioned, the Gospel of John records that after the multitude witnessed Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand they declared, ‘This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world’ (Jn. 6:14). Both Jews and the Samaritans believed the Messiah would be the great prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy. Jesus himself claimed to be its fulfilment:
If you believed Moses you would believe Me for he wrote of Me (Jn. 5:46).
This is a reference to the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18. Those who heard his claim would have understood this. Furthermore, Jesus claimed his teaching was given him from the Father:
So Jesus answered them and said, ‘My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him’ (Jn 7:16-18).
I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world (Jn. 8:26).
For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me (Jn. 12:49-50).
Jesus claimed to come from God and to speak only what God gave him to speak. He said of himself, ‘I am the truth’ (Jn. 14:6). When standing before Pilate Jesus testified, ‘For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth’ (Jn. 18:37). On the day of Pentecost, Peter declared of Jesus:
But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. ‘And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people’ (Acts 3:18-23).
John the Baptist testified of Jesus:
He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure (Jn. 3:31-34).
The New Testament records that on the Mount of Transfiguration God the Father declared Jesus to be his Son and approved his teaching saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him’ (Mt. 17:5). This is a reiteration of Deuteronomy 18—all the people were to hearken to the words and teaching of the prophet. Jesus said of himself: ‘I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness’ (Jn. 12:46). Jesus called all men to heed his teaching. He claims that he alone is the truth and the light who can deliver mankind from spiritual darkness and death. Once again, the New Testament, in the opening verses of Hebrews, declare Jesus to be the living fulfilment of prophecy, in this case Deuteronomy 18:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Heb 1:1-2).
The teaching of Jesus is incomparable. As many Jews in his day testified, ‘Never did a man speak the way this man speaks’ (Jn. 7:46). They acknowledged that Jesus taught with great knowledge, wisdom and authority. Peter spoke for many then and now when he asked of Jesus, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God’ (Jn. 6:68-69).
The Messiah Will Be a Worker of Miracles
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing; for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert (Is. 35:5-6).
In this passage, Isaiah prophesied that God would meet his people supernaturally through the performance of miracles. A day would come when people would witness a mighty outpouring of God’s Spirit in an unprecedented way. At first glance this passage may not appear to be messianic, but it was quoted by Jesus to the disciples of John the Baptist to confirm his identity. Though John had testified publicly that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God, he later had misgivings and doubts. We read:
Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me’ (Mt. 11:2-6).
John was familiar with the prophecies to which Jesus referred. In telling John’s disciples that he was fulfilling them, Jesus knew it would encourage John’s heart and strengthen his faith to believe again that Jesus was the Messiah. It was a common Jewish expectation that the Messiah would be a miracle worker. Many believed Jesus was the Messiah because of his miraculous works:
But many of the multitude believed in Him; and they were saying, ‘When the Christ shall come, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?’ (Jn. 7:31).
The Pharisee, Nicodemus, was so impressed with the miraculous works of Jesus that he testified: ‘Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him’ (Jn. 3:2). The historical record makes clear that Jesus performed many miracles to demonstrate that he was the Messiah of God. He challenged the Jews concerning his miracles:
But the witness which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me (Jn. 5:36).
It is important to note that nobody denied the miracles of Jesus, not even his enemies. The New Testament records that though they were acknowledged, his miracles were explained away as demonic in origin:
The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons’ (Mk. 3:22).
Jesus in turn chastised them with this sober admonition:
And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. “If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished! “But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house. “Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit” (Mk. 3:23-30).
After Jesus had healed the man born blind, the Pharisees rejected the possibility that Jesus’ power came from God. The apostle John records their comments:
Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, ‘This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath...we know that this man is a sinner’ (Jn. 9:16, 24).
There were others, however, who could not so easily dismiss the overwhelming evidence and came to the same conclusion as the Pharisee, Nicodemus:
But others were saying, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And there was division among them (Jn. 9:16).
The miraculous works Jesus accomplished were predicted by Isaiah. Their nature and number set him apart from anyone else who has ever lived. He changed water to wine, fed thousands with only a handful of fish and bread, calmed the wind and raging sea with a word, walked on water, healed lepers, the blind, lame, deaf and dumb, cast out demons and raised the dead. More importantly, he healed men and women spiritually and saved them.
The miracles of Jesus were performed to establish his identity, demonstrate his power and to authenticate him as the one sent by God with power and authority to heal men spiritually. He claimed to have authority to forgive sins, a prerogative of God alone, and a direct claim to deity. The religious leaders were scandalized. Jesus then performed a miracle to validate his claim. Mark gives this account of the incident:
And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, ‘Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”; or to say, “Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.’ And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this’ (Mk. 2:2-12).
The miracles of Jesus stand as convincing and powerful proof of his claims and teachings. Those who were eyewitnesses could not deny them as documented in the gospel records. The people of his day had to make a decision regarding them as do men and women in our own day. Jesus performed miracles. The historical record testifies to that. They either validate his claim of Messiahship or we must conclude that his power came from some source other than God. Jesus is the greatest moral teacher who ever lived. He called men to a life of love for God and others, he alleviated the suffering of multitudes, only to be falsely accused and unjustly condemned, then tortured and nailed to a cross. Yet he forgave and prayed for his enemies. This is not the character and actions of someone inspired by Satan. The testimony of the blind man healed by Jesus is a strong rebuke to those who would dismiss his miracles. This man was willing to accept the greatest rejection a Jew could endure, excommunication from the synagogue and ostracism from his culture, for telling the truth about the miracle Jesus performed on his behalf:
So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” They reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.” The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing” (Jn. 9:24-33).
The Messiah Will Enter Jerusalem on the Foal of a Donkey
Zechariah prophecies regarding Israel’s future Messiah–King, writing of a day when he would make an entrance into Jerusalem:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass (Zech. 9:9).
Ancient Jewish commentators interpreted this passage as messianic:
R. Hillel said: There shall be no Messiah for Israel, because they have already enjoyed him in the days of Hezekiah. R. Joseph said: May God forgive him [for saying so]. Now, when did Hezekiah flourish? During the first Temple. Yet Zechariah, prophesying in the days of the second, proclaimed, Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy king cometh unto thee! he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass (Zech. IX, 9) (The Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, Editor (London: Soncino Press), Seder Nezikin, Vol. III, Sanhedrin 99a, p. 669).
R. Alexandri said: R. Joshua opposed two verses: it is written, And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven (Dan. VII, 13); whilst [elsewhere] it is written, [behold, thy king cometh unto thee...] lowly, and riding upon an ass!’ (Zech. IX, 7)—If they are meritorious, [he will come] with the clouds of heaven (Dan. VII, 13); if not, lowly and riding upon an ass (Zech. IX, 9) (The Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, Editor (London: Soncino Press), Seder Nezikin, Vol. III, Sanhedrin 98a, pp. 663-664).
Zechariah tells us that the coming King will be just, righteous, humble and lowly. His humility will be demonstrated in the way he enters the holy city, not in the pomp, splendor and majesty of a conquering king as was characteristic of ancient kings, but in lowliness, seated on the foal of a donkey. The Messiah would deliberately shun all worldly glory and honor to demonstrate that the kingdom of God does not consist of these things. The emphasis in the last two sentences of the prophecy is purposeful. It underscores the self–abasement of the King, a deep humiliation.
In his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus rode on the foal of a donkey, proclaimed by the crowds as the Messiah. Matthew identified this event as the fulfilment of the prophecy of Zechariah:
And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and came unto Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village that is over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any one say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. Now this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, Meek, and riding upon an ass, And upon a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did even as Jesus appointed them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their garments; and he sat thereon. And the most part of the multitude spread their garments in the way; and others cut branches from the trees, and spread them in the way. And the multitudes that went before him, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest (Mt. 21:1-9) (ASV Translation).
Consider this—Zechariah prophesied that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey. Add the additional facts from other prophecies we have examined so far. The Messiah would be the Son of God, a direct descendant of king David, born in Bethlehem, would appear before 70 A.D. and would be killed. Who else but Jesus could this be? These are just a very few of the prophecies but they all point to Jesus. They were all fulfilled in him. And yet, there is more, much more!
The Servant of the Lord: His Life and Ministry
As we have noted, Isaiah presents much detailed information about the Messiah in chapters 7, 9 and 11. Beginning in chapter 42 and followed by chapters 49, 50, 52-53 and 61, Isaiah reveals even more information regarding the Messiah’s ministry and sufferings. The Messiah is referred to as the ‘Servant of the LORD.’ Isaiah 42:1 foretells, ‘Behold My servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.’ The term ‘servant’ can sometimes refer to any one called of God to a particular ministry, but it is clear from Isaiah’s descriptions that, in this case, it could only refer to the Messiah. Many have disputed this, insisting that the term servant used here is a reference to either the Jewish nation or to Cyrus, the Persian king. However, E.W. Hengstenberg points out the error of this conclusion:
Against this interpretation (the Jewish people)...we urge, a) that in the sixth verse the ‘servant of Jehovah’ is plainly distinguished from the people. How can Jehovah say of the people, that He will make them a mediator of the covenant with the people? b) That the description of the servant of God, as one who is meek, mild, quiet and humble (Is. 42:2-3), is in striking contrast with what the Prophet elsewhere says, respecting the character and manners of the people of Israel...
Others understand by the ‘servant of Jehovah’ Cyrus...Cyrus is indeed always represented as a king sent by God for the deliverance of His people, but never as a mediator of a new covenant between God and the Israelites, never as the founder of the true religion. How do the words, ‘I have put My Spirit upon him,’ agree with Cyrus? How do passages, like the second and third verses, where the servant of Jehovah is described as quiet, mild and gentle, agree with Cyrus, the conqueror, who shed rivers of blood? (E.W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1970), pp. 208, 209).
While many present day Jewish apologists interpret the ‘Servant of the LORD’ to be the nation of Israel, it is also true that ancient Jewish midrashic and targumic writings interpreted the ‘Servant’ in the entire section from Isaiah 42–61 of the Messiah:
Behold, My servant, the Messiah, whom I bring near, My chosen one, in whom My Memra takes delight; I will place My holy spirit upon him, and he shall reveal My law to the nations. He shall not cry, nor shout, nor raise his voice on the outside (42:1)...You are My witnesses before Me, says the Lord, and My servant is the Messiah, whom I have chosen (43:10)...Behold, My servant the Messiah shall prosper; he shall be exalted and great and very powerful (52:12) (The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation, Samson H. Levy (New York: Hebrew Union College, 1974), Targum Jonathan on Isaiah 42:1, pp. 59-60, 62, 63).
Send two redeemers like them to this generation. O send out Thy light and Thy truth; let them lead me (Ps. 43:3), Thy light being the prophet Elijah of the house of Aaron, of which it is written ‘The seven lamps shall give light in front of the candlestick’ (Num. 8:2); and Thy truth being the Messiah, son of David, as is written ‘The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David; He will not turn from it: of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne’ (Ps. 132:11). Likewise Scripture says, Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet (Mal. 3:23) who is one redeemer, and speaks of the second redeemer in the verse Behold My servant whom 1 uphold (Isa. 42:1) (The Midrash on Psalms, William G. Braude, Translator (New Haven: Yale, 1959), Yale Judaica Series, Volume XIII, Leon Nemoy, Editor, Book One, Psalm 42/43.5, p. 445).
In the decree of the Prophets it is written Behold My servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high (Isa. 52:13), and it is also written Behold My servant, whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth (Isa. 42:1)...R. Yudan said: All these goodly promises are in the decree of the King, the King of kings, who will fulfill them for the lord Messiah (The Midrash on Psalms, William G. Braude, Translator (New Haven: Yale, 1959), Yale Judaica Series, Volume XIII, Leon Nemoy, Editor, Book One, Psalm 2:9).
The rabbinic interpretation has historically viewed the Servant of Isaiah 42:1 of the Messiah. Bruce Chilton, a translator of the Isaiah Targum, makes this comment on the identity of the Servant of Isaiah 42:1: ‘Although “servant” language has been used in respect of Israel (41:8), the present usage appears to be messianic...’ (The Isaiah Targum, Introduction, Translation, Apparatus and notes by Bruce D. Chilton (Wilmington: Michael Glazier), The Aramaic Bible, The Targums, Volume 11, Notes on 42:1-42:7, p. 81).
This prophetic section of Isaiah opens with a proclamation from God, to all everywhere to, ‘Behold His Servant’ (Is. 42:1). This section summarizes the ministry of the servant of the Lord and combines several themes disclosed in previous prophecies, revealing that which will characterize the life and ministry of the Messiah, the Servant of the LORD.
Anointed with the Spirit, Righteous in Character
The prophecies of Isaiah teach us that the Messiah will be uniquely anointed by the Spirit of God for life and ministry. This revelation is first introduced in Isaiah 11 and reiterated in chapters 42 and 61. In chapter 11, Isaiah identified him as a descendent of Jesse, the father David. In addition, we are told of the Messiah’s character and the effects of his reign:
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist…Then in that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious (Is. 11:1-5, 10).
The Messiah would be a man of righteous character, full of wisdom and faithfulness and anointed by the Spirit of God. His reign would usher in peace. One of his names, Prince of peace, is given in chapter nine. Once again we are pointed to the righteous life of Jesus. He challenged the Jews with, ‘Which of you convicts Me of sin’ (Jn. 8:46)? The New Testament writers, some of whom were eyewitnesses, all testified to his holy character and faithfulness to God:
Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth (1 Pet. 2:24).
He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses was also in all His house (Heb. 3:2).
And having been made (proved) perfect, He became to those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9).
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24).
We see the profound wisdom of Jesus revealed in his ongoing dialogue with the Jews who ceaselessly attempted to trip him with trick questions related to moral and theological questions. The following are just a few notable instances:
The Woman Caught in Adultery
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say? They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her. Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you? She said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said, I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more (Jn. 8:1-11).
The Coin and Caesar
Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax. And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said to Him, Caesar’s. Then He said to them, Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s. And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away (Mt 22:15-22).
The Woman Who Married Seven Brothers
On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Jesus and questioned Him, asking, Teacher, Moses said, If a man dies having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her. But Jesus answered and said to them, You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living. When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching (Mt. 22:23-33).
The Pharisees and Jesus’ Question About the Christ
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He? They said to Him, The son of David. He said to them, Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son? And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question (Mt 22:41-46).
Jesus astounded both commoners and the educated religious leaders of his day with his wisdom and teaching. Matthew 22:46 indicates that eventually, the Jewish leadership dared not ask Jesus anymore questions.
Isaiah 42 and 61 emphasize the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Messiah for the accomplishment of the work and ministry to which God would call him. As mentioned, the ancient Jews interpreted Isaiah 42 as a reference to the Messiah:
Behold, My servant, the Messiah, whom I bring near, My chosen one, in whom My Memra takes delight; I will place My holy spirit upon him, and he shall reveal My law to the nations (The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation, Samson H. Levy (New York: Hebrew Union College, 1974), pp. 59-60).
According to these prophecies, the Messiah’s work would be spiritual in nature, not political. His ministry would be characterized by teaching, preaching and the accomplishment of salvation:
Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law. Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it, “I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, and I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison (Is. 42:1-7).
The Spirit of the LordGOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified (Is 61:1-3).
Jesus initiated his public ministry by reading from the sixty–first chapter of Isaiah:
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’ And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Lk 4:16-21).
Jesus read the prophecy in Isaiah 61 and claimed to be its fulfilment. This would apply as well to the corresponding prophecy in Isaiah 11. So Jesus claimed to be the ‘Servant of the LORD’ prophesied in Isaiah 11, 42 and 61 who would be uniquely anointed by the Holy Spirit. The apostle Matthew wrote that Jesus was also the fulfilment of Isaiah 42:
But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel, nor cry out; nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out, until He leads justice to victory. And in His name the Gentiles will hope (Mt.12:15-21).
The ministry of the Messiah would be primarily spiritual. As predicted in Deuteronomy 18, the Messiah would be a prophet like Moses, a lawgiver and deliverer. The Mosaic deliverance of Israel from physical bondage in Egypt is a picture of spiritual deliverance. Based on the prophecies in Isaiah 42 and 61, the Spirit of God would anoint the Messiah to free captives spiritually through the preaching of the gospel. This is a spiritual deliverance of men which fulfils the Genesis 3 prophecy where the purpose of the Messiah’s coming was first introduced and pictured as a mortal spiritual combat between himself and Satan. The Messiah’s purpose would be not to establish an earthly kingdom but a spiritual, heavenly one. We can see this further in the interaction between Jesus and the Jews. He said to them:
‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You shall become free?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed’ (Jn. 8:31-36).
Jesus speaks here of slavery and freedom. The Jews thought he meant physical slavery. Jesus corrected their erroneous thinking by pointing out that he meant slavery to sin, and that he could set free from sin anyone who committed his life to him. This underscores the spiritual nature of his mission and the purpose for which the Holy Spirit anointed him. Jesus repeatedly emphasized this about his ministry:
But He said to them, ‘I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose’ (Lk. 4:43).
I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Lk. 5:32).
Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God (Lk. 8:1).
For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost (Lk. 19:10)
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mk 10:45).
When he stood before Pilate Jesus confirmed that he was indeed a king, but not of any kingdom in this world. His purpose in coming into this world was to bear witness to the truth:
Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.’ Therefore Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice’ (Jn. 18:36-37).
Those prophets who preceded the Messiah ministered primarily to Israel, though a few would preach to other nations (as Jonah did with Nineveh) or write prophetically to them. The Messiah, according to Isaiah 42, would be anointed by the Spirit of God for a worldwide ministry to both Jew and Gentile. He would be called in righteousness, led and protected by God, and appointed as a covenant to the nations to bring forth justice and righteousness. The Messiah would accomplish this by being a light to the nations ‘to open blind eyes and to bring prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison’ (Is. 42:7). Light and darkness are figurative terms used to represent truth and error and righteousness and unrighteousness respectively. Again, as we saw above, Isaiah prophecied that the Messiah would effect a spiritual deliverance and enlightenment for all the nations of the world. This prophecy proclaims that a Jewish Messiah would be the spiritual light and spiritual deliverer for all men. This is exactly what Jesus claimed:
I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life (Jn. 8:12).
According to the New Testament, it is through Jesus that God established a covenant with all the nations. He is called the Mediator of the New Covenant:
Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, ‘See,’ He says, ‘that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.’ But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises (Heb 8:1-6).
The Jews understood this prophecy of Isaiah to be messianic as seen in the words of Simeon concerning the infant Jesus. He quotes the forty second chapter of Isaiah and applies it to Jesus:
And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel (Lk. 2:25-32).
Isaiah 11:10 and 49:6 reiterate and amplify these concepts:
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the root of Jesse, that standeth for an ensign of the peoples, unto him shall the nations seek; and his resting-place shall be glorious (Is. 11:10) (ASV Translation).
Yea, he saith, It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth (Is. 49:6) (ASV Translation).
The promise given is that the Messiah would be a light and ensign to the nations, one whom all nations would seek. Through him the salvation of God would reach the entirety of the earth. The Messiah would not only be a light to the nations, in that he would bring truth, understanding and deliverance from spiritual blindness, error and darkness, but he would also be the Savior of the world. He will gather men and women from every nation under heaven, Jew and Gentile, into the kingdom of God, granting them salvation from sin, judgment and condemnation. Peter declared Jesus to be the fulfilment of this prophecy: ‘And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). John the Baptist proclaimed of Jesus, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn. 1:29). Historically, Jesus has stood alone as the only and perfect fulfilment of these prophecies for the past two thousand years. He was a Jew, a descendent of David, born in Bethlehem before 70 A.D., who claimed to be the Messiah and the light and salvation of the world. Men and women throughout the ages have sought him. He has been an ensign to the nations.
Rejected, Despised, Tortured and Murdered by the Jews
Isaiah also predicted that the Messiah would not be received or esteemed by his own people. He would, in fact, be despised, abhorred, rejected, physically abused and ultimately murdered by them. Scripture speaks of a suffering Messiah who vicariously endures these sufferings for the Jewish nation and all mankind. Numerous authoritative Jewish writings affirm this:
Rab said: The world was created only on David’s account. Samuel said: On Moses’ account; R. Johanan said: For the sake of the Messiah. What is his [the Messiah’s] name?—The School of R. Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh come (Gen. 49:10)...The Rabbis said: His name is ‘the leper scholar,’ as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted (Isa. LIII, 4) (The Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, Editor (London: Soncino Press), Seder Nezikin, Vol. III, Sanhedrin 98b, pp. 667-668).
AND BOAZ SAID UNTO HER AT MEAL TIME: COME HITHER, AND EAT OF THE BREAD, AND DIP THY MORSEL IN THE VINEGAR. AND SHE SAT BESIDE THE REAPERS; AND THEY REACHED HER PARCHED CORN, AND SHE DID EAT AND WAS SATISFIED AND LEFT THEREOF (II, 14). R. Jonathan interpreted this verse in six ways...The fifth interpretation makes it refer to the Messiah. COME HITHER: approach to royal state. AND EAT OF THE BREAD refers to the bread of royalty; AND DIP THY MORSEL IN THE VINEGAR refers to his sufferings, as it is said, But he was wounded because of our transgressions (Isa. LIII, 5) (Midrash Rabbah Ruth, Rabbi Dr. H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, Editors; Rabbi Dr. L. Rabinowitz, Translator (London: Soncino Press), V.6, pp. 61, 64).
It is taught, moreover, that in the month of Nisan the Patriarchs will arise and say to the Messiah: Ephraim, our true Messiah, even though we are thy forbears, thou art greater than we because thou didst suffer for the iniquities of our children, and terrible ordeals befell thee, such ordeals as did not befall earlier generations or later ones; for the sake of Israel thou didst become a laughingstock and a derision among the nations of the earth; and didst sit in darkness, in thick darkness, and thine eyes saw no light, and thy skin cleaved to thy bones, and thy body was as dry as a piece of wood; and thine eyes grew dim from fasting, and thy strength was dried up like a potsherd—all these afflictions on account of the iniquities of our children, all these because of thy desire to have our children benefit by that goodness which the Holy One, blessed be He, will bestow in abundance upon Israel (30Pesikta Rabbati, William G, Braude, Translator (New Haven: Yale University, 1968), Volume II, Piska 37.1, pp. 685-687).
In the Garden of Eden there is a hall which is called the Hall of the Sons of Illness. The Messiah enters that Hall and summons all the diseases and all the pains and all the sufferings of Israel that they should come upon him, and all of them came upon him. And would he not thus bring ease to Israel and take their sufferings upon himself, no man could endure the sufferings Israel has to undergo because they neglected the Torah (Zohar 2:212a).
The Messiah would be the foundation or cornerstone to whom the nation of Israel was to look in faith. Isaiah prophesied of this:
Therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed’ (Is. 28:16)
However, Isaiah also prophesied that the Messiah, as the cornerstone, would be a stumbling block to the people of Israel:
Then He shall become a sanctuary; but to both houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, and a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Is. 8:14).
This particular verse is interpreted by the Talmud to refer to the Messiah:
The son of David cannot appear ere the two ruling houses in Israel shall have come to an end, viz., the Exilarchate in Babylon and the Patriarchate in Palestine, for it is written, And he (i.e., the Messiah) shall be for a Sanctuary, for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both houses of Israel (The Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, Editor (London: Soncino Press), Seder Nezikin, Vol. III, Sanhedrin 38a, p. 238).
The Psalms also predicted that the Messiah would be rejected by the Jewish religious leaders:
The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone (Ps. 118:22).
This is especially clear in chapters 52 and 53, which many ancient Jewish writings viewed as messianic:
Behold, My servant the Messiah shall prosper; he shall be exalted and great and very powerful. As the house of Israel, their appearance darkened among the nations, and their bright countenance darkened among the children of men, looked for him many days...
He shall gather in our exiles from their pain and punishment. Who shall be able to recount the wonders which shall be performed for us in his days, for he shall remove the domination of the nations from the land of Israel. And the sins which My people have committed, he shall account unto them (The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation, Samson H. Levy (New York: Hebrew Union College, 1974), pp. 63-66, Comments on Is. 52:13-14 and Is. 53:8).
Quoting from verse 12, Jesus claimed that Isaiah 53 applied to him:
For I tell you, that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfilment (Lk. 22:37).
The Old Testament Scriptures predicted that the Jewish nation would be totally antagonistic to the Messiah. The following prophecies chronicle the sufferings and rejection of the Messiah by the Jews:
Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, to the despised One, to the One abhorred by the nation, to the Servant of rulers, ‘Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You’ (Is. 49:7).
I gave My back to those who strike Me, and My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting (Is. 50:6).
Just as many were astonished at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any man (Is. 52:14).
Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him (Is. 53:1-3).
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? (Is. 53:7-8).
Jewish rabbis have acknowledged that when Messiah appears he would be rejected by the Jewish leaders:
Every good quality will be united in him, but in spite of all this the people will not recognise in him the will of God (The translation and commentary by the Qarzite, Yepheth ben ‘Ali. Found in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters, S.R. Driver, A.D. Neubauer (Oxford: Parker, 1877), p. 30).
But the commencement of the prophecy, ‘He shall be high and exalted and lofty exceedingly’, and similarly the words ‘with the mighty he shall divide the spoil,’ will not admit of being applied to him. The fact is that it refers to the King Messiah, who will come in the latter days, when it will be the Lord’s good pleasure to redeem Israel from among the different nations of the earth...And even the Israelites themselves will only regard him as ‘one of the vain fellows,’ believing none of the announcements which will be made by him in God’s name, but being contumacious against him, and averring that all the reproaches and persecutions which fall to his lot are sent upon him from heaven, for that he is ‘smitten of God’ for his own sin (35From the exposition of the entire Old Testament, called the Korem, by Herz Homberg. Found in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters, S.R. Driver, A.D. Neubauer (Oxford: Parker, 1877), p. 401).
No one disputes that Jesus was despised and hated by the Jews. It is an historical fact. Jesus himself testified to it, and claimed it was a direct fulfilment of prophecy:
If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. But they have done this in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause’ (Jn. 15:22-25).
In hatred and jealousy the Jews plotted the murder of Jesus. He knew it and confronted them with their evil designs:
But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God...(Jn. 8:40).
The Jews purposed to kill Jesus. They brought him to trial unjustly, then beat, scourged, tortured and crucified him. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, ‘He was cut off out of the land of the living’ (Is. 53:8). Isaiah adds that in his death the Messiah would be numbered with transgressors and buried in a rich man’s tomb:
He poured out Himself to death and was numbered with the transgressors...His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet he was with a rich man in his death (Is. 53:12, 9).
Jesus was crucified between two thieves and his tomb was provided by Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy Jew:
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away (Mt. 27:57-60).
The Jews have historically believed there would be two Messiahs. The prophecies predicted that the Messiah would, on the one hand, experience rejection, suffering and death and, on the other, that he would be a conquering, reigning King. They could not understand how such diverse prophecies could be fulfilled in one man, so they taught that there would be a Messiah ben Joseph (son of Joseph), also called Messiah son of Ephraim, who would fulfil the prophecies related to suffering and death, and a Messiah ben David (son of David) who would fulfil the prophecies of a reigning, conquering and victorious king. Driver and Neubauer explain:
Messiah ben Ephraim (or ben Yoseph) appears in the later Jewish writings as the forerunner of Messiah ben David, who will begin the work of Israel’s deliverance and restoration, but before completing it will be slain before the walls of Jerusalem by the formidable hosts (sometimes spoken of as Gog and Magog) assembled against him under Armilaus. Thereupon, the Israelites (as the text says) will mourn for him (Zech. xii.10); but Messiah, the son of David, will continue the struggle, destroy the ‘wicked’ Armilaus with the breath of his nostrils (Is. xi.4), and lead Israel victoriously into Jerusalem. The idea of the second Messiah was probably suggested by the language of Zech. xii.10. (The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters, S.R. Driver, A.D. Neubauer (Oxford: Parker, 1877), p. 32).
The following are representative rabbinic quotes which agree with this position:
In my own humble opinion, who accept ‘the words of the wise as goads’ (Qoh. xii.11), I believe that they mean to assert that the verse speaks solely of Messiah son of David, to whom all the gorgeous language in it will apply. The prophet next addresses the people of Messiah son of Ephraim, and encourages them not to be afraid of the myriads which were against them, assuring them that the degree of his future exaltation will be proportionate to the amazement with which they had previously contemplated him; that even though the son of Ephraim were slain, the Almighty would avenge him by the hand of Messiah son of David, who would sprinkle the blood of many nations (37From the Jewel of Gold, a Commentary on Isaiah by Rabbi Sh’muel Lanyado, of Aleppo. Found in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters, S.R. Driver, A.D. Neubauer (Oxford: Parker, 1877), p. 301).
1 will make mention of Rahab and Babylon as among them that acknowledge Me (Ps. 87:4). R. Judah bar Simon taught: The nations of the earth will bring gifts to the King Messiah. In the next verse, But of Zion it shall be said: “This man and that man was brought forth in her” (Ps. 87:5), this man and that man refers to the Messiahs of the Lord, to Messiah the son of David, and to Messiah the son of Ephraim.” By brought forth it is meant that the Messiahs will be lifted up above the nations, as in the verse Before the mountains were lifted up (Ps. 90:2) (38 (The Midrash on Psalms, William G. Braude, Translator (New Haven: Yale, 1959), Yale Judaica Series, Volume XIII, Leon Nemoy, Editor, Book II, Psalm 87.6, pp. 77-78).
Isaiah 53: The Work of Atonement
The prophet Isaiah not only prophesied that the Messiah would be despised, tortured and killed, but in Isaiah 53 the reason why. Jews today reject Isaiah 53 as messianic, insisting that the prophecy points to the nation of Israel as a whole. Eleventh century Jewish rabbi and commentator, Rashi, popularized this view. However, the problem with his interpretation is that the passage uses the third person singular throughout and contrasts that individual with the nation. Isaiah 53:8 reads: ‘For he was cut off from the land of the living through the sin of my people, who deserved the punishment’ (Hebrew English Tanakh (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1999).
There are three entities mentioned here. The first is represented by the pronoun ‘my’, referring to the author, the prophet Isaiah. The second is represented by the word ‘people’. Isaiah writes of ‘my people’, a direct reference to the Jewish nation. The last refers to ‘he’ who was ‘cut off out of the land of the living’. This ‘he’ refers to an individual quite distinct from Isaiah or the Jewish nation. We could appropriately translate the verse as: ‘he (the Messiah) was cut off from the land of the living, for the transgression of my (Isaiah’s) people (the Jewish nation).’ Some Jewish rabbis have agreed:
This Parashah the commentators agree in explaining of the captivity of Israel, although the singular number is used in it throughout. The expression ‘my servant’ they compare rashly with Isaiah 41:8, ‘thou Israel art my servant,’ where the prophet is speaking of the people of Israel (which would be singular); here, however, he does not mention Israel, but says simply ‘my servant’; we cannot therefore understand the word in the same sense. Again in Isaiah 49:8 he addresses the whole nation by the name of their father Israel (or Jacob, as he continues, ‘Jacob whom I have chosen,’ but here he says ‘my servant’ alone, and universally employs the singular, and as there is no cause constraining us to do so, why should we interpret the word collectively and distort the passage from its natural sense? Others have supposed it to mean the just in this present world, who are crushed and oppressed now, but who in the future will have understanding, and ‘shine as the brightness of the firmament’ (Daniel 12:3): but these too, for the same reason, by altering their number, distort the verses of their natural meaning. As then it seemed to me that the doors of the literal interpretation were shut in their face, and that ‘they wearied themselves to find the entrance’, having forsaken the knowledge of our Teachers, and inclined after the ‘stubbornness of their own hearts’ and of their own opinion, I am pleased to interpret it,’ in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis, of the King Messiah, and will be careful, so far as I am able, to adhere to the literal sense: thus possibly, I shall be free from the forced and farfetched interpretations of which others have been guilty (The forty-second chapter of Aid to Faith of Rabbi Moshe Kohen Ibn Crispin of Leon and Avila in Spain, composed in 1375 A.D. Found in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters, S.R. Driver, A.D. Neubauer (Oxford: Parker, 1877), pp. 99-100, 114).
Though most Jews today universally reject Isaiah 53 as messianic, this is has not always been the case. The Talmud and many of the ancient rabbis interpreted Isaiah 53 as of the Messiah:
What is his [the Messiah’s] name?—The School of R. Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh come (Gen. 49:10)...The Rabbis said: His name is ‘the leper scholar,’ as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted (Isa. LIII, 4) (The Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, Editor (London: Soncino Press), Seder Nezikin, Vol. III, Sanhedrin 98b, pp. 667-668).
1 will now proceed to explain these verses of our own Messiah, who God willing, will come speedily in our days! I am surprised that Rashi and Rabbi David Kimchi have not, with the Targums, applied them to the Messiah likewise. The prophet says he shall be ‘high and exalted and lofty,’ expressing the idea under various forms, in order to indicate that his exaltation will be something extraordinary. It is a proof that the Parashah refers to our Messiah...(From the Hind sent forth, a Commentary on the Prophets and Hagiographa by Rabbi Naphtali (Hirsch) ben R. Asher Altshuler, ca. 1650 A.D. Found in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters, S.R. Driver, A.D. Neubauer (Oxford: Parker, 1877), p. 319).
I am pleased to interpret it in accordance of our rabbis, of the King Messiah, and will be careful, so far as I am able, to adhere to the literal sense: thus, possible, I shall be free from the fancied and far fetched interpretations of which others have been guilty...This prophecy was delivered by Isaiah at the divine command for the purpose of making known to us something about the nature of the future Messiah, who is to come and to deliver Israel (43 The forty-second chapter of Aid to Faith of Rabbi Moshe Kohen Ibn Crispin of Leon and Avila in Spain, composed in 1375 A.D. Found in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters, S.R. Driver, A.D. Neubauer (Oxford: Parker, 1877), pp. 99-100, 114).
I may remark, then, that our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah, and we shall ourselves also adhere to the same view (From an Exposition of the Prophets by Rabbi Mosheh ben Hayyim Al-Sheikh, of Saphed, second half of the 16th century. Found in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters, S.R. Driver, A.D. Neubauer (Oxford: Parker, 1877), p. 258).
But he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the meaning of which is that since the Messiah bears our iniquities which produce the effect of His being bruised, it follows that whosoever will not admit that Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities, must endure and suffer for them himself (From the Beginning of Wisdom, by Rabbi Eliyyah de Vidas (ca. 1575). Found in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters, S.R. Driver, A.D. Neubauer (Oxford: Parker, 1877), p.386).
For extensive documentation of the rabbinic interpretation of Isaiah 53 please refer here.
The prophets predicted that the Messiah would be a savior who would deliver men from their sins. Isaiah 53 reveals to us how the Messiah would accomplish that work, by a vicarious atonement. Some Jewish rabbis have interpreted this passage to mean that the Messiah would deliver his people from sin by bearing their sins:
Inasmuch now as at the end of the captivity there will be no prophet to intercede at the time of distress, the time of the Lord’s anger and of his fury, God appoints his servant to carry their sins, and by doing so lighten their punishment in order that Israel might not be completely exterminated. Thus from the words ‘he was wounded for our transgressions,’ we learn two things: 1. that Israel had committed many sins and transgressions, for which they deserved the indignation of God; 2. that by the Messiah bearing them they would be delivered from the wrath which rested upon them, and be enabled to endure it, as it is said, ‘And by associating with him we are healed.’ God indeed will afflict the Messiah with longer and severer sicknesses than Ezekiel; but this is owing to the period in which he lives and to its requirements, and in giving him the rank of a prophet, he will bring his excellence to light (The translation and commentary by the Qaraite, Yepeth ben ‘Ali. Found in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters, S.R. Driver, A.D. Neubauer (Oxford: Parker, 1877), p. 24).
Isaiah 53 states that the Messiah would bear the sins of men and suffer God’s wrath and judgment for those sins. Through his suffering and death he would become a guilt offering by which he would cleanse men of their iniquities. Isaiah predicts that because of this men would conclude that the Messiah had been forsaken and judged by God. All this would take place because the Messiah would become our substitute and make atonement by bearing our sin and judgment. Through his atonement men would be forgiven and justified:
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him…By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?…But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors (Is. 53:4-6, 8, 10).
The Septuagint translates this passage as follows:
He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed. All we as sheep have gone astray; every one has gone astray in his way; and the Lord gave him up for our sins...In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken away from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death...The Lord also is pleased to purge him from his stroke. If ye can give an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long–lived seed: the Lord also is pleased to take away from the travail of his soul, to shew him light, and to form him with understanding; to justifiy the just one who serves many well; and he shall bear their sins. Therefore he shall inherit many, and he shall divide the spoils of the mighty; because his soul was delivered to death: and he was numbered among the transgressors; and he bore the sins of many, and was delivered because of their iniquities (Is. 53:4-6, 8, 10-12).47
Notice the specific predictions: He will bear mankind’s sin, be pierced through and suffer death, and as a result, many will be healed. When brought to judgment he will remain silent. He will be a righteous man, judged unjustly and numbered with transgressors, buried in a rich man’s tomb. All of this he suffers in giving himself as a guilt offering for sin. The Gospel of Matthew records this of Jesus:
But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins’ (Mt. 1:20-21).
John the Baptist declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). Jesus confirmed this and testified to his purpose with these words:
The Son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many...For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life’ (Mk. 10:45, Jn. 3:16).
The New Testament repeatedly declares that Jesus bore the sin of the world, making a full atonement before God. On the basis of that work, through repentance and faith in Jesus, men can be set free from the guilt, defilement, bondage, power and judgment of sin and receive forgiveness, cleansing, and eternal life:
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed (1 Pet. 2:24).
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (1 Pet 3:18).
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace (Eph. 1:7).
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (Gal. 1:4).
To rightly understand New Testament teaching about the atonement and sacrifice of Jesus we need to look at the Old Testament ceremonial law. The New Testament teaching on sin, atonement and sacrifice is rooted in the Old Testament sacrificial system, established by God as a temporary means of dealing with the guilt of sin and maintaining a relationship with God. God made clear that sin had to be punished and the punishment was death. In mercy and love he established the Old Testament sacrificial system in which an animal would be offered in the place of a man. This sacrifice would require the mediation of a priest. To satisfy God’s demand for justice, a life must to be forfeited. The Law declared that apart from the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness. According to Leviticus it is the shedding of blood, which represents a life given in death, that made atonement:
For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life (Lev. 17:11).
Atonement was made when the blood of an animal was shed. Its life was offered as a substitute for the sinner. This was meant to be a temporary provision because the blood of bulls and goats could only cover the guilt of sin, not remove it. For a sacrifice to fully satisfy God’s demands, a human life must be offered for a human life, precisely what God intended to do through the Messiah. The ceremonial law was designed to be a type or picture of the future saving work of the Messiah. He would be a King, a Prophet and a Priest, fulfilling all that the ceremonial law required and offering himself as the ultimate sacrifice for the guilt and sin of man. So, when John the Baptist proclaimed of Jesus, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn. 1:29), he clearly identified Jesus as the Messiah. What countless animal sacrifices could not do, the one sacrifice of the Messiah would accomplish; it would take away the sin of the world. The New Testament teaches that Jesus became our substitute, bore our sin, and suffered in our place, giving his life as a propitiatory sacrifice to atone for sin and satisfy the justice of God. Again, as Isaiah wrote of the Messiah:
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him…By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? (Is. 53:4-6, 8).
The Messiah would be the one mediator between God and man. The Psalms predicted this messianic priesthood:
The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4).
As we have seen, Psalm 110 is messianic and was understood as such by the Jews. It predicted that the Messiah’s priesthood would be eternal. In the book of Hebrews, we are told that Jesus fulfilled this messianic prediction:
Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of Him, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’ For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever”’); so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:11-25).
For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever (Heb. 7:26-28).
For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him (Heb. 9:24-28).
The New Testament declares that Jesus as the Messiah is the only mediator between God and man:
For there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).
The Messiah Will Be Crucified
In Psalm 22, written around 1000 B.C, King David gave an intimate and detailed account of the sufferings and death of the Messiah. David described in graphic terms the experience and unique circumstances of one being tortured to death by crucifixion. Nothing like this ever happened to David. It was written prophetically of someone else. An important fact to note is that crucifixion did not exist in Jewish culture at the writing of this prophecy. It originated some 800 years later, a Roman and Phonecian custom introduced around 200 B.C. Psalm 22 reads:
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning…But I am a worm and not a man, a reproach of men and despised by the people. All who see me sneer at me; they separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, ‘Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.’…Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help. Many bulls have surrounded me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me. They open wide their mouth at me, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and You lay me in the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots (Ps. 22:1, 6-8, 11-18).
This Psalm opens with a cry of anguish, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me’? and details the intense suffering of the one being crucified and the attitude and comments of those who witnessed it. The Psalm is quoted by the New Testament Gospel writers and applied to the crucifixion of Jesus (cf. Matthew 27:33-46; Mark 15:22-35; John 19:23-30).
The ancient Jewish writing, Pesikta Rabbati, also interprets Psalm 22 as a prophetic reference to the sufferings and atoning sacrifice of the Messiah:
[At the time of the Messiah’s creation], the Holy One, blessed be He, will tell him in detail what will befall him: There are souls that have been put away with thee under My throne, and it is their sins which will bend thee down under a yoke of iron and make thee like a calf whose eyes grow dim with suffering, and will choke thy spirit as with a yoke; because of the sins of these souls thy tongue will cleave to the roof of thy mouth. Art thou willing to endure such things?…The Messiah will say: Master of the universe, with joy in my soul and gladness in my heart I take this suffering upon myself, provided that not one person in Israel perish…During the seven–year period preceding the coming of the son of David, iron beams will be brought and loaded upon his neck until the Messiah’s body is bent low. Then he will cry and weep, and his voice will rise up to the very height of heaven, and he will say to God: Master of the universe, how much can my strength endure? How much can my spirit endure? How much my breath before it ceases? How much can my limbs suffer? Am I not flesh–and–blood? It was because of the ordeal of the son of David that David wept, saying My strength is dried up like a potsherd (Ps. 22:16) (Pesikta Rabbati, William G, Braude, Translator (New Haven: Yale University, 1968), Volume II, Piska 36.2, pp. 678-679, 680-681).
It is taught, moreover, that in the month of Nisan the Patriarchs will arise and say to the Messiah: Ephraim, our true Messiah, even though we are thy forbears, thou art greater than we because thou didst suffer for the iniquities of our children, and terrible ordeals befell thee, such ordeals as did not befall earlier generations or later ones; for the sake of Israel thou didst become a laughingstock and a derision among the nations of the earth; and didst sit in darkness, in thick darkness, and thine eyes saw no light, and thy skin cleaved to thy bones, and thy body was as dry as a piece of wood; and thine eyes grew dim from fasting, and thy strength was dried up like a potsherd—all these afflictions on account of the iniquities of our children, all these because of thy desire to have our children benefit by that goodness which the Holy One, blessed be He, will bestow in abundance upon Israel…Why does the verse speak twice of mercy: In mercy I will have mercy upon him? One mercy refers to the time when he will be shut up in prison, a time when the nations of the earth will gnash their teeth at him every day, wink their eyes at one another in derision of him, nod their heads at him in contempt, open wide their lips to guffaw, as is said All they that see me laugh me to scorn, they shoot out the lip, they shake the head (Ps. 22:8); My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my throat; and thou layest me in the dust of death (Ps. 22:16).
Moreover, they will roar over him like lions, as is said They open wide their mouth against me, as a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is become like wax; it is melted in mine inmost parts (Ps. 22:14-15). They will growl over him like lions who lust to swallow him, as is said All our enemies have opened their mouth wide against us. Terror and the pit are come upon us, desolation and destruction (Lam. 3:46-47) (49Pesikta Rabbati, William G, Braude, Translator (New Haven: Yale University, 1968), Volume II, Piska 37.1, pp. 685-687).
We know this psalm prophecied a crucifixion because it states that the hands and feet of the one suffering will be pierced. Additional descriptions of the sufferings endured are also commensurate with crucifixion. Some present day Jews object to the translation of the Hebrew which reads, ‘they have pierced my hands and my feet,’ claiming it is a distortion of the original by Christians who have manipulated the text to read the experience of Jesus back into the passage. They claim that the original Hebrew word does not mean ‘pierced’ but ‘like a lion’ and should read, ‘like a lion they are at my hands and my feet,’ corresponding to the animal imagery used throughout the passage. However, while the Hebrew does not use the exact word for ‘pierced’, it does not invalidate it as a proper translation. Why? First, all agree that the passage prophesies that something happens to the hands and feet, a rending of the flesh. This would be consistent with the word picture created by the animal imagery used to describe the lacerating or piercing of the hands and feet. Secondly, the Septuagint, which predates the Christian era by three centuries, translated the passage: ‘they pierced my hands and my feet’ (The Septuagint with Apocrypha, Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1851, 1986).
Those Jewish translators clearly believed that ‘pierced’ was a legitimate translation of the original Hebrew text and can hardly be charged with a Christian bias. In addition, Aquila, a convert to Judaism from Christianity, in his translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, translated the original Hebrew as, ‘they have disfigured my hands and my feet.’ The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Biblical Commentary makes this comment:
Aquila, a Jew, and a proselyte, under Adrian, about 133 AD, translates eeschunan, ‘they disfigured’ - a remarkable admission from one who would have gladly opposed the Christian exposition. The little Masora admits that the same Hebrew, which in Isa 38:13 means ‘as a lion,’ has a different meaning here (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Biblical Commentary, Psalm 22:16. Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft).
Additionally, the ancient Jewish writing, the Yalkut, gives this translation of Psalm 22:16:
‘For dogs have surrounded me,’ are Haman’s sons. Rabbi Yehuda says they cast spells on me, or bound my feet before Ahashuverosh, and Rabbi Nehemiah says my feet were pierced before Ahashuverosh (Yalkut Shimoni, Psalm 22:16. Translation by Dr. Amnon Shor).
Finally, Psalm 22 is not the only reference to the Messiah being pierced. Isaiah 53:4 predicted that the Messiah would be wounded (pierced through) for man’s transgressions (Is. 53:5). The Hebrew word used means to be wounded by being pierced or stabbed. Zecharaiah also prophesied that the Messiah would be pierced through:
And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him as for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first–born’ (Zech. 12:10).
Historically, Jewish rabbis have taught that Zechariah 12:10 refers to the first of two Messiahs, Messiah ben Joseph of Ephraim, who would be slain by Gentile nations. The Talmud reads:
What is the cause of the mourning [mentioned in the last cited verse]?—R. Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point. One explained, The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, and the other explained. The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination. It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through. and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son (Zech. XII,10) (The Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, Editor (London: Soncino Press), Seder Mo‘ed, Vol. III, Sukkah 52a, p. 246).
A marginal reading in the Targum states:
And I shall cause to rest upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of prophecy and true prayer. And afterward the Messiah son of Ephraim will go out to do battle with Gog, and Gog will slay him in front of the gate of Jerusalem. And they shall look to me and shall inquire of me why the nations pierced the Messiah son of Ephraim (Kevin J. Cathcart and Robert P. Gordon, editors, The Targum of the Minor Prophets (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1989), p. 218).
Psalm 22 also documents the reaction and comments of those present at the crucifixion. The one crucified testifies that he is a worm and not a man, a reproach of men and despised by the people. This concurs with Isaiah 53 where it is prophesied that the Messiah would be despised and forsaken of men. The Psalmist predicted that the witnesses would sneer at the Messiah and mock him. They would separate with the lip, wag or shake their heads and mockingly taunt him. The Psalm even prophesied their words: ‘Commit yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver him; let Him rescue him, because He delights in him’ (Ps. 22:8). Those present would divide and cast lots for the clothing of the one crucified. The parallel between these predictions and the actual events in the life of Jesus is astounding. Matthew records:
And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots...And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, ‘He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, “I am the Son of God.”’...And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ (Mt. 27:33, 39-43, 46).
Every prophecy in Psalm 22 was literally fulfilled in Jesus. This is important in determining the proper interpretation of verse 16 and whether ‘pierced’ is a legitimate translation. Since Jesus’ hands and feet were indeed pierced with nails and both Isaiah and Zecharaiah predicted the Messiah would be pierced, the Septuagint translators were correct in translating the Hebrew as ‘they have pierced my hands and my feet.’
The confluence of all these facts is significant. Consider again: It was prophesied that the Jewish Messiah would come before 70 A.D., some 483 years after the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem in the Babylonian captivity. He is the Son of God but would be abhorred, rejected and eventually murdered by the Jews. His death would be by crucifixion and he would be mocked by those present. Who else, except Jesus of Nazareth, could these prophecies refer to?
The Messiah Will Be Resurrected
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay (Ps. 16:10).
The term ‘Holy One’ is a direct reference to the Messiah. While the prophets predicted that he would be killed, this Psalm makes clear that the Messiah would not remain in the grave; his body would not undergo decay. Jesus told his followers that he would suffer physical abuse at the hands of the religious leaders, that he would be killed, but on the third day resurrected:
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him (Mk 8:31-32).
But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Mt. 12:39-40).
‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again’ (Mk. 10:33-34).
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken (Jn. 2:19-22).
When John wrote that the disciples remembered the prediction of Jesus and then believed the Scripture, he was referring specifically to Psalm 16. Peter also applied this passage to Jesus:
‘Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him, I saw the Lord always in my presence; For He is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; moreover my flesh also will live in hope; because You will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with Your presence. Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet. Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified’ (Acts 2:22-36).
Even the enemies of Jesus were aware of his claims and predictions. After his crucifixion the chief priests and scribes came to Pilate, anxious to procure a guard to secure the tomb. Matthew gives this account:
Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’ “Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.’ And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone (Mt. 27:62-66).
The Jewish religious leaders understood the claims of Jesus made and took measures to make certain his tomb remained undisturbed. They were determined that no hoax would be perpetrated by the disciples. The last thing they wanted was an empty tomb. They feared it would perpetuate the influence and teaching of Jesus. So they secured a Roman guard from Pilate to seal and guard the tomb. Despite their efforts, on the third day the tomb was empty and the body was never recovered. Jesus’ prediction has been fulfilled. The empty tomb is an historical fact. The question is, How do we account for it? There are only a few options: the Jewish leaders removed the body; the Roman guard removed it; Jesus did not die on the cross but only swooned and was placed in the tomb alive, eventually resuscitated and, on his own, escaped from the tomb; the disciples stole it and claimed Jesus was resurrected; or Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead. The last option is the only reasonable and rational one adequate to explain the empty tomb. Neither the Jewish leaders nor the soldiers would have removed the body. It would have defeated their purpose in securing the tomb. If, for some reason, they had moved the body to another grave site, all they had to do to discredit Christianity forever was to produce it once the apostles began preaching in Jerusalem.
Jesus was declared dead by a Roman guard. He did not break Jesus’ legs but thrust a spear through his side, making resuscitation impossible. The disciples were incapable of stealing the body. The gospels record that they were hiding in great fear of the authorities. The grave was guarded by Roman soldiersand an extremely large stone covered the entrance to the tomb which was sealed. The disciples could never have maneuvered past a trained Roman guard or engaged them physically. The fact remains, the tomb was empty and the body was never recovered. The reason given by the religious leaders to explain away the empty tomb (that the disciples somehow stole the body) was an admittance that the tomb was actually empty. They did not have the body. The only plausible answer is that, as predicted in Psalm 16, Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of God on the third day, demonstrating him to be the prophesied and long awaited Messiah, the Christ of God, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Lamb of God and the Savior of the world.
Gandhi, Mohammed, Buddha, all the Hindhu gurus of the past are all dead. So is every religious and cult leader who ever lived. Only Jesus was resurrected and is alive and seated at the right hand of God as predicted:
The LORD says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet’ (Psalm 110:1).
And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Rev 1:16-18).
When we piece together the Old Testament prophecies that profile the identity of the Messiah it is clear that only Jesus qualifies as the prophesied One. Who else is there in human history:
Who was Jewish?
Who was a direct descendant of king David?
Whose public ministry began approximately 483 years after the Babylonian captivity of the Jews?
Who was born in Bethlehem?
Who was reportedly born of a virgin?
Who claimed to be the Son of God?
Whose coming was preceded by a powerful messenger preaching repentance?
Who was renowned for his wisdom, teaching, power and righteousness?
Who performed miracles?
Who entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey being proclaimed King of the Jews?
Who was scourged, beaten, spit upon and pierced through?
Who was abhorred, despised, tortured and killed by the Jews?
Who suffered death by crucifixion (whose hands and feet were pierced)?
Who was numbered with criminals (transgressors crucified with)?
Who reportedly died for the sins of the world?
Who was buried in a rich man’s tomb?
Whose clothing was distributed by the casting of lots?
Who was later reported to be resurrected?
Who is a light, a source of salvation and the Mediator of a New Covenant to the nations of the world?
We live in a day when absolutes and objective truth have been rejected in favor of universal relativism. All religions are considered equally valid because all are considered equally arbitrary. Faith is considered irrational, divorced from scientific and historical fact. However, a study of prophecy and the facts concerning the life of Jesus reveals that the Christian faith is based solidly on real historical evidence. The Old Testament prophecies are there for all to read. There are several hundred years between the writings of these prophecies and the life of Jesus, and yet he fulfilled every one of them. To conclude that such detailed prophecies could be fulfilled in one person by chance is to wilfully blind oneself to the facts. There is only one logical and inescapable conclusion: Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. There is no other reasonable explanation and this is confirmed by both the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament exhorts men to consider prophecy. Its fulfilment points to the reality of the living God and his inspired Scriptures, his word—his revelation of himself to us. God has spoken to us in creation, through his written word and in Jesus Christ:
‘Present your case,’ the Lord says. ‘Bring forward your strong arguments,’ The King of Jacob says. Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; As for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider them, and know their outcome; or announce to us what is coming. Declare the things that are going to come afterward, that we may know that you are gods (Is 41:21-23).
We have a revelation from God and because of this we can have a certainty of knowledge about truth and reality. Scripture reveals that God is a personal, speaking God and Jesus is the fulness of his revelation. God has given us objective, propositional truth, a standard by which we can measure all other claims to truth. Jesus stands before us as the living Truth. His claims and teachings are exclusive. In a postmodern, relativistic, pluralistic age, these claims and teachings of Jesus stand in opposition to all other religious and philosophical systems. Jesus unashamedly declares himself to be the truth and all other systems false:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’ (Jn. 14:6).
There is only one Truth and one Way to God and that is through Jesus. He is the Christ, the Son of God and, as such, he speaks and teaches with absolute authority. He came the first time to accomplish salvation for man. The Scriptures prophesy that he will return again as ‘the lion of the tribe of Judah’ to subdue all rebellion against God, to usher in God’s eternal kingdom and to bring men to judgment. There is a prophecy in Daniel which describes the final triumph of the Messiah. God gave King Nebucadnezzar of Babylon a dream chronicling the whole of human history from his own day to the end. Here is Daniel’s interpretation:
You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome. The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. This was the dream; now we will tell its interpretation before the king. You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory; and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold. After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth. Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces. In that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. As the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle. And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery.
In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy (Dan. 2:31-45).
This prophecy has already been partly fulfilled just as Daniel declared. The rest, however, is yet to come—God establishing his eternal kingdom and subduing all earthly ones. The stone cut out of the mountain is a prophecy of the Messiah who will crush all the kingdoms of the earth. In that day Messiah alone will rule. The book of Revelation makes clear that Daniel’s prediction will be fulfilled in Jesus:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:11-16).
This prophecy predicts the exaltation of Jesus as the Christ. Jesus is not one of many religious or political equals. He stands alone, preeminent as the Lord of lords and King of kings, the Messiah, the only mediator between God and man, Savior and source of all spiritual life. The apostle Paul prophesied this of the exaltation of Jesus:
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:8-9).
These prophecies will be as literally fulfilled as those having to do with Jesus’ first coming. Until that day, Scripture teaches that God has a message for man—a message containing both good news and a warning. On the one hand, it is a message of hope, joy, life and peace; a message that God is, that he can be known and how we can come to know him. But God also warns that if we do not heed and obey his message, our rejection of it will have eternal consequences. As the apostle Paul instructed, there is a time coming, ‘...when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power’ (2 Thes. 1:7-9). Like ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness,’ the Scriptures warn men to heed God’s message. God himself is speaking to us!