Messiah in the Hebrew Bible

by Michael Rydelnik

How can someone be convinced that Jesus truly is who He claimed to be­the Messiah of Israel and the world? One of the ways that Jesus Himself proved this was by citing the Hebrew Bible's prophecies of the Messiah and how He fulfilled them. For example, Jesus said, "These are my words that I spoke while I was still with you­that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44).

So to what prophecies was He referring? Probably Jesus meant not merely individual, messianic texts, but the Hebrew Bible as a whole. Even so, there are numerous specific predictions about the coming of the Messiah that Jesus fulfilled. In fact, the entire life of the Messiah can be found in the Hebrew scriptures, demonstrating that Jesus is actually the Promised One.

Messiah's Birth

The Hebrew Bible contains several predictions of the Messiah's birth. Micah foretold that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, when he wrote, "Bethlehem Ephratah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for me" (Micah 5:2).

Also, Genesis 49:10 predicted that the Messiah would come in the first century. It says, "The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet, until He whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to Him." Besides plainly stating that the Messianic King would come from the line of Judah, additionally it says that He would come before the "scepter" and "staff" depart from Judah. The word "scepter" in Hebrew, as used here, refers to tribal identity (note the same word is translated "tribe" in 49:16). The word "staff" means a "judge's staff" and refers to judicial authority. The prediction is that Messiah would come before Judah would lose its tribal identity (lost in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the Temple) and judicial authority (lost in A.D. 6/7 when the Romans replaced Herod Archeleus with a Roman governor). Based on these two elements, the Messiah needed to come by the first century.

Additionally, Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. King Ahaz and Judah were under a threat from two northern kingdoms that wanted to remove the Davidic king and thereby jeopardize the Messianic promise. Isaiah brought both his son Shear Jashub and a message of hope to King Ahaz­an offer that Ahaz rejected. At this point, Isaiah gave two predictions. The first, a far prophecy (7:13-15), assured the enduring nature of the Davidic house until the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah wrote, "Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name Him Immanuel." The sign of hope would be the Messiah's supernatural birth by a virgin in the distant future. The second prediction (7:16-17), related to the near situation, and predicted that by the time "the boy" Shear Jashub reached an age to know right from wrong, the imminent threat of the two northern kings would be removed. So, the Hebrew Bible predicted that the Messiah would be virgin born in Bethlehem by the time of the first century.

Messiah's Nature

Although some have thought that Messiah would just be a glorious king, the Scriptures foretold that Messiah would have a unique nature. For example, in the same prophecy (Micah 5:2) that predicted that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, it also said that his origin would really be "from antiquity, from eternity" indicating His eternal nature.

Isaiah also foresaw that the Messiah would have a divine nature. In a birth announcement, Isaiah gave the royal names of the future messianic king: ". . . . Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). These glorious titles of deity indicate that the Messiah would be God Himself.

Messiah's Life

Isaiah foretold the characteristics of the Messiah's life. In the messianic age, "the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy" (Isaiah 35:5-6). So, when the Messiah would make his appearance, He was to be a miracle worker. Isaiah also predicted that Messiah's teaching would "bring good news to the poor . . . [and] heal the brokenhearted" (Isaiah 61:1). Despite these many signs, Isaiah foretold that Messiah would also be "despised and rejected by men" and that His own people would confess that "we did not value Him" (Isaiah 53:3).

Messiah's Death

Daniel 9:26-27 predicted that the time of the Messiah's death. He would be "cut off" before A. D. 70, when the Romans would "destroy the city (Jerusalem) and the sanctuary (the Temple)."

King David foretold that Messiah would die by crucifixion, saying "they pierced my hands and my feet" (Psalm 22:16) . So David predicted Messiah's crucifixion more than 300 years before that manner of execution was known.

More significant than the time or manner of His death, Isaiah predicted that the Messiah's death would be as a substitution for humanity's sin. The Servant of the Lord, would die a disfiguring death (Isaiah 52:14); He would be "pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5); The Lord would punish Him "for the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). The Servant would have "submitted Himself to death" and as a result "He bore the sin of many" (Isaiah 53:12).

Messiah's Resurrection

The prophets not only foretold the Messiah's death­they anticipated His resurrection as well. In Isaiah 52:13-53:12, after describing Messiah's substitutionary death, Isaiah promised that the Lord would "prolong His days" (Isaiah 53:10) and that Messiah would see "the light" of life (Isaiah 53:11fn). David also expressed his own confidence that God would "not abandon him to Sheol" because the Messiah, God's "Faithful One" would not "see decay" (Psalm 16:10, cf. Footnote).

Messiah's Return

The Hebrew scriptures present the Messiah in two ways: as a Suffering Servant and as a victorious and righteous King. Although this has confused many, the difficulty is resolved by recognizing that the prophets anticipated two appearances of the Messiah. First, He would come as an atoning sacrifice for sin. Second, He would come to establish His righteous kingdom. One of the passages that links the two comings is Zechariah 12:10. It speaks of Messiah coming to deliver Israel at the last battle and then "they will look at Me whom they pierced." These verses depict Messiah's second coming as the victorious king but also recognize His first appearance as the Pierced One. Then, when He comes, He will fulfill Isaiah's prediction that "He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever" (Isaiah 9:7).

Mathematician Peter W. Stoner calculated the probability of one person fulfilling not all the messianic predictions of the Bible, or even the ones mentioned in this article, but just eight messianic predictions. He found that the probability would be 1 in 1017 or 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000. The likelihood of this occurring is comparable to covering Texas with 1017 silver dollars, marking only one of them, stirring the mass of dollars, and then having a blindfolded man randomly pick up the marked silver dollar (Stoner and Newman, 106-12). This is the likelihood of Jesus of Nazareth randomly fulfilling only eight of the Messianic predictions of the Hebrew Bible.

Stoner, Peter and Newman, Robert C. Science Speaks, Chicago: Moody Press, 1976.

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