“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 promised by the Lord. 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” (Gen. 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 Sam 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” (Mic. 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” (Is. 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” (Mal. 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” (Is. 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” (Dan. 9:24-26).
I am about to reveal to you the ways in which the Gospels give numerous examples of how Jesus fulfills each one of these 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” (Mt. 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’” (Ps. 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”), 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” (Heb. 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 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” (Mt. 2:1-2). The multilayered method, in which Matthew writes this, 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.” That is, 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,” just 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 noting 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 immediately. 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 this messenger prophecy in the Book of Malachi, and the second one referred to “Elijah” being sent before the Lord. Luke’s Gospel references this version of the 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” (Ll. 1:16-17). This not only shows how John the Baptist fulfills the messenger role, and 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 and gives birth to a child, 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. 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. What’s more, this 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.
The sixth messianic prophecy in our discussion is that the Messiah will die for the sins of Israel. This prophecy was just alluded to in our discussion of Abraham and the sacrifice of his son. This prophecy is extremely important. When God was telling the serpent in the Garden that the Seed of Eve would crush his head, and in turn the serpent would bruise his heel, it gave mankind something to hold on to when all hope seemed lost. Adam and Eve had just sinned against God, and were expelled from the Garden into a world with labor and pain. This promise that one day, a man would come to somehow make it right, even if it meant that he might have to bear the brunt of the burden for the sin of others, gave mankind a glimmer of hope.
Later in Genesis, God alludes to another way in which the sin of mankind could also be redeemed. As the Lord, is expelling man from the Garden, he said, “Lest he put forth his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat forever” (Gen. 3:22) So, not only is mankind promised this “seed of Eve” who will take on the bite of the snake in order to defeat him, but there is also this “tree of life” that bears the fruit of redemption. Jesus is this long awaited seed of Eve, as revealed by his genealogy, which goes all the way back to Abraham. After all, Abraham was a descendant of Noah, and Noah of Seth, and Seth of Eve. Thus Jesus is the seed of Eve who will suffer in order to defeat sin and death (symbolically represented by the serpent) by dying on a cross (symbolically represented by the "bruised heel" and the tree of life).
The seventh messianic prophecy in our discussion is that the Messiah will arrive before the Temple is destroyed. In order to understand the fulfillment of this prophecy, one must look back in history to when the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem occurred. In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the Temple during what came to be known as the Siege of Jerusalem. Jesus is believed to have died around the year 33 AD. Therefore, the prophecy of Daniel seems to have been fulfilled. (Also interesting to note, Daniel uses the phrase “70 Weeks of years” in his writing, and it was in fact during the year 70 AD when the Temple was destroyed. This accuracy is astounding and worth note.) Furthermore, and very relevant to our discussion, Jesus did in fact explicitly talk about the destruction of the Temple. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?’ But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead” (John 2:19-21). Jesus appeared on Earth, and taught the world to look inward. That is to say, the kingdom of God resides inside each and every one of us. Therefore, when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, it did not separate the people from God, Jesus had already shown them their inner sanctuary, their inner light. The new temple of God is within us all.
All of this talk of Jesus being the Messiah drove the scribes and chief priests crazy. They convinced the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate to punish Jesus as he would any other seditious rebel in Rome. The irony was that they wanted Jesus dead in order to prove that he was not the Messiah, but in death he proved that he was. What I am referring to here is the placard that was nailed to the top of the cross just above Jesus’s head, which read the charge: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The main objective of his enemies was to suppress talk of Jesus being the Messiah, yet here he was branded as such, on display, for the whole world to see. If the fact that he was labeled as the very thing that his enemies said he wasn’t, upon his death, by the people who killed him, isn’t a miracle and a sign of God’s power in its own right, than I’m not sure what is. The point I am trying to make here is that no matter how one looks at it, there was almost nothing this man could do where someone wasn’t slapping the label of “Messiah” on him.