“For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me.” ~ Luke 22:37
What is the Messiah? The Messiah is the title for the long-awaited King of Israel the Lord promised. It is believed that he would come to redeem Israel of its sins and restore peace to the world. The idea of the Messiah is first alluded to in the Book of Genesis, right after the fall of Adam and Eve. When punishing the serpent for the part he played in the sin of mankind, God warns the serpent of the future seed of Eve, saying, “he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen.3: 15). In other words, there will be a man who will sacrifice himself in order to fulfill the Lord’s will and make things right once more. Another word for “Messiah,” is “Christ.” “Christ” literally means “the anointed one.” This title is in reference to the Jewish tradition of anointing of one with oil. This was done as a way “to set him apart” in honor of God. This anointing was reserved only for the high priest or the king of Israel. Thus to call Jesus of Nazareth the “Christ” is to declare that he is in fact the one that has been promised since the fall of man, the one set apart, the king of Israel.
What are the signs that someone is the Christ?
There are hundreds of messianic prophecies in the Bible. However, for the purposes of our discussion, I am only going to focus on seven prophecies particularly worthy of note:
The Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:10)
The Messiah will come from the line of King David (2 Samuel 7)
The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
The Messiah will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)
The Messiah will have a messenger sent before him (Malachi 3:1)
The Messiah will die for the sins of Israel (Isaiah 53:4-5)
The Messiah will come before the temple is destroyed (Daniel 9:24-26)
The first prophecy worthy of note in our discussion is that the Messiah will come from the line of Judah. Judah is the fourth son of Jacob (aka “Israel”). At the end of his life, Jacob told his sons what would befall each of them. It was at this point that Jacob prophesied a king of Israel from the line of Judah, saying, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10).
The second messianic prophecy in our discussion is that the Messiah shall arise from the line of King David. In 2nd Samuel, the Lord speaking through the prophet Nathan says to David, “The Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I shall establish a throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father and he shall be my son” (2 Samuel 7: 11-14).
The third messianic prophecy is that the Messiah will be born in the city of Bethlehem. For in the Book of Micah it is written, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2)
The fourth messianic prophecy is that the Messiah will be born of a virgin. For in the book of the prophet Isaiah, it is written, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
The fifth messianic prophecy for our discussion is that the Messiah will have a messenger sent before him to prepare his way. In the Book of Malachi, it is written, “Behold I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord, whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts” (Malachi 3:1). The Book of Malachi ends, along with the Old Testament itself, with yet one more reference to the messenger that will be sent before the Lord, saying, “Behold I will send you Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes” (Malachi. 5:5).
The sixth messianic prophecy is that the Messiah will die for the sins of Israel. For in the Book of Isaiah, it is written, “Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted, But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53: 4-5).
And the seventh messianic prophecy germane to our discussion is that the Messiah will come before the Temple is destroyed. For in the Book of Daniel it is written, “Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off, and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and sanctuary” (Daniel 9:24-26).
How Jesus Fulfills the Prophecies
The Gospels reveal to us exactly how Jesus fulfills the seven aforementioned messianic prophecies, thus proving that he is in fact the “Christ” in the true sense of the word.
The first two prophecies of the coming Messiah -- that he will be from the tribe of Judah and he will be from the line of David -- are brought to bear immediately in the Gospels. The Gospel of Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus, and it shows how there are forty-two generations from Abraham to Jesus, which pass through Judah and David along the way. For it is written:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah…” further down the line, “and Obed the father of Jesse and Jesse the father of David the King…” further down the line, “and Mattan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born who is called the Christ (Matthew 1:1-2, 5-6, 15-16).
Furthermore there is another way in which Jesus fulfills the messianic prophecy about being from the line of David, beyond just this genealogical connection. In the 110th Psalm (listed as one of the “Psalms of David”), it is written, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’” (Psalms 110:4). Melchizedek is first referenced in the book of Genesis. He is the king of Salem and priest of El Elyon (“God Most High”). He is the man who blesses Abraham in the name of God. This Psalm, by his mere mention, reveals a strong connection between King David and Abraham. They are both leaders of Israel who are of the order of Melchizedek and blessed by God Most High. This connection, however, does not stop there -- with just them. That is to say, this line of David (and Abraham) extends directly to Jesus. For in the Letter to the Hebrews, it is written, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God, a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:7-10). In other words, no matter how you look at it, whether by genealogy or by spiritual inheritance, Jesus is of the same line and/or order of David, and thus fulfills this particular messianic prophecy.
The third messianic prophecy is that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. In the Gospel of Matthew it is written, “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen the star in the east, and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2). Matthew's Gospel has a multilayered approach to prophetic fulfillment -- it clearly references the messianic prophecy in the book of Micah about Bethlehem, while also subtly calling to mind the previous prophecy about the Messiah coming from the tribe of Judah. As you may recall, in Micah it is written “Bethlehem…who are little to be among the clans of Judah.” The city of Judea, where the little town of Bethlehem resides, is representative of the “clan of Judah.” And thus, like Jesus’s genealogy, these words have Jesus fulfilling two messianic prophecies simultaneously. For being born in Bethlehem automatically means you are “from the tribe of Judah,” by the virtue of its location in Judea. Furthermore, Matthew is clearly not hiding the intent behind these words; the wise men make direct mention of “the king of the Jews” in order to highlight the messianic purpose of all of this.
The fourth messianic prophecy is that the Messiah will be born of a virgin. In the Gospel of Luke it is written, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what kind of greeting this might be. And 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 call his name Jesus’” (Luke 1:26-31).
Luke’s words here not only fulfill the virgin prophecy, but they also re-affirm the line-of-David prophecy by making an explicit reference to Joseph’s lineage. So once again we see multiple messianic prophecies being fulfilled at once.
The fifth messianic prophecy is that a messenger will be sent before the Messiah to prepare the way for him. We see this in the figure of John the Baptist. The Gospel of Mark addresses this messianic prophecy right at the outset. The Gospel opens up, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold I have sent my messenger before thy face, who will prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” These words of the prophet are fulfilled in the Gospel of Mark, when it says, “John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins… And he preached saying, ‘After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Mark 1: 1-4, 7).
As I noted earlier, there are two different references to the messenger prophecy in the Book of Malachi, and the second one refers to “Elijah” being sent before the Lord. Luke’s Gospel references this version of the messenger prophecy, showing how John the Baptist did in fact embody Elijah and precede the Lord. The Gospel of Luke begins with the story of a priest named Zechariah who had a wife named Elizabeth, who was old and barren. When Zechariah was burning incense in the temple of the Lord, an angel appeared to him, and told him that his prayers have been answered and his wife was with child. The angel goes on to say that this child “will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before them in the spirit and power of Elijah … to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:16-17).
This not only shows how John the Baptist fulfills the messenger role, and how Jesus thus fulfills the Messiah role, but this passage serves to bridge the gap between the Old Testament tradition and the New. The story of Zechariah having an old barren wife, who is blessed by the Lord with the birth of a miracle son, harkens back to the story of Abraham. His wife Sarah was also old and barren, but the Lord blessed them with a son named Isaac. Isaac would become the father of Israel. In both stories, God is planting the seeds for a foundation of a new kingdom. [On a side note: one is reminded that to test Abraham’s faith, God asked him to sacrifice his son. Likewise, the arch of the story of Jesus is God sacrificing His son for the sin of mankind.]
The Bridge between Old and New Testament
The prophecy about the messenger being Elijah is made in the final words of the Old Testament. It’s placement (at the end of the Old Testament) in relation to Luke’s gospel opening with the story of John the Baptist’s miraculous Isaac-like birth, literally and figuratively connects the deep roots of Israel’s past, with the new kingdom that John the Baptist is ushering in by paving the way for the Lord Jesus Christ.