As we think about the many prophecies in Scripture that refer to Jesus, we need to think seriously about some issues in prophecy. These issues aren’t with Scripture. Rather, the way that we have traditionally thought about Scripture creates numerous issues when we wish to explore prophecies about Jesus. Tonight, we want to explore these issues with prophecy that we might move fully to discuss prophecy & make appropriate application.
In the field of apologetics (defending the faith), circular reasoning is often used to establish the truthfulness of Scripture & the identity of Jesus Christ. This circular reasoning goes like this: I believe in the Bible (or Jesus) because of the prophecies. I believe in the prophecies because I believe the Bible. Such reasoning is far from valid logically.
The Bible The Bible says Jesus says Jesus would bewas born in born inBethlehem Bethlehem(Lk 2:4-7).. (Mic 5:2).
Obviously, an unbeliever is going to have a “field day” because of such logic. We need to find a way to present biblical truth in a way that doesn’t go in that circle.
First, I do not know that we need to escape all circular reasoning. Scripture itself stands as the perfect testimony to faith. Rom 10:13-17. Jesus declares that the Old Testament prophecies stand as a testimony to His identity: Matt 5:17. Lk 4:20-21. Lk 24:44. Jn 5:39.
In a world of perfect “logic,” this reasoning does not at all work. However, God has turned the logic of this world upside down (1 Cor 1:25-27). Biblical faith does not operate on the dictates of Aristotelian logic!
Second, some prophecies of the Messiah can be established outside of Scripture. In other words, a few Old Testament prophecies that are established outside of the New Testament. There are no serious scholars—regardless of spiritual persuasion—who doubt that Jesus was crucified. Many prophecies point to crucifixion. Is 53:5. Ps 22:16.
Another issue with biblical prophecy has to do with the very nature of prophecy. We often fail to understand what prophecy really is. Scholars are divided on the origin of the Hebrew word for “prophet.” Some believe it comes from an Arabic term meaning “spokesman.” Ex 4:10-17. The word “spokesman” (v 16) is Hebrew for “prophet”; the prophets were spokesmen for God. Some believe it comes from the Hebrew word which means “bubbling up.” This would point to the inspiration of the prophet. Others believe the word is Akkadian in origin & originally mean “to be called.”
The nature of biblical prophecy comes into play as we think about messianic prophecies. We tend to think of “prophecy” as a prophet’s being inspired to tell of future events. That certainly happened (Mic 5:2 & the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is a perfect example). However, prophets, more often than not, were spokesmen for God. The role of the biblical prophet was to call the people of God back to the “straight and narrow.” This becomes important as we think of messianic prophecies. There are different types of messianic prophecy & not every messianic prophecy was a prediction.
Types of Messianic Prophecy: Direct Fulfillment. Double Prophecy. Typological Fulfillment.
Direct Fulfillment: Matt 2:6; Mic 5:2. There is no indication from the text of Micah that the prophet had any incident of his day in mind. He was looking forward to the coming of the Christ, and, being filled with the Spirit, predicted the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem. Matt 4:15-16; Is 9:1-2.
Double Fulfillment: Matt 2:17-18/Jer 31:15. If you look at the context of Jeremiah 31, there is nothing to suggest that Jeremiah is speaking about the slaughter of the innocents under Herod. In fact, the text in Jeremiah is one of hope, not gloom! The mothers are weeping for their children who had gone into captivity. But, in Jer 31:16-17, they are told to weep no more, for their children will come back from captivity. This prophecy seems to have been fulfilled twice, not just once. Once, when the Babylonian exiles returned. Second, when Herod killed the innocents.
Typological Fulfillment. Matt 2:15/Hos 11:1. In reading Hosea 11, you would never get the idea that the prophet is speaking about Jesus. The reference is to the Israelites’ being led out of Egyptian bondage. Matthew seems to be saying, “When God delivered Jesus out of Egypt, it was like the time He delivered all the Israelites out of Egypt.” 1 Cor 10:4.
“He came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” What prophet predicted that Jesus would be called a Nazarene? Some have suggested this is a reference to the Nazarities (Judg 13:5-7). Others find fulfillment in Is 11:1—The Hebrew word for “branch”(naser) is supposed to sound like the word “Nazarene.” I personally reject both of those ideas—they seem like a stretch.
It’s important to note a couple things: Matthew writes about this prophecy differently than he does any other prophecy. He does not say that this prophecy was written—he says it was spoken. He also doesn’t name the prophet, nor does he say “the prophet,” but he says “the prophets.” We know that not all prophets wrote down their prophecies. Elijah & Elisha never wrote a book, but they were still prophets of God. I personally believe that Matt 2:23 refers to a prophecy that was handed down through generations. The Jews of Jesus’ day would easily have recognized it.