Why Study Messianic Prophecy? Tips in Studying Messianic Prophecy

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Think Apologetics. Tabernacle of David considers this resource trustworthy and Biblically sound.


Why should we study Messianic Prophecy?

a. Messianic prophecy should be studied to show us God is sovereign in the midst of a chaotic and unstable world. Hence, God is working in the affairs of mankind.

b. Messianic prophecy reminds us that God has a redemptive plan for Israel and the nations.

c. Messianic prophecy should motivate us to holy living. It should also cause to re-evaluate our priorities. If God has brought the Messiah into the world to bring redemption, He will bring Him back to complete the messianic task.

What is the Relationship Between Messianic Prophecy and Apologetics ?

a. Apologetics is the branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of belief in Jesus; formal argumentation in defense of something, such as a position or system.

b. The Bible is considered to be God’s revelation to mankind. However, The Quran, The Book of Mormon, and other holy books are considered to be a revelation from God. Messianic prophecy has apologetic value in that it confirms the Bible as a true revelation.

c. Historical Verification: Has God revealed Himself in the course of human history? If so, when and where has He done this?

d.  While prophecy does not prove the existence of God, it does show that unusual events predicted in his Name that come to pass are evidence of his special activity.

e. Fulfilled prophecy is a distinctively accessible and a testable kind of miracle. The prophecy was made and its accuracy cannot be explained either causally (for example, on the ground that it brought about its own fulfillment) or as accidental, and hence that it was probably miraculous (see J.L. Mackie in Swinburne, Miracles, 90).

f. The majority of the Jewish community thinks the Messiah has not come. Is this correct?

How do we define prophecy?

a. Prophecy is the foretelling or prediction of what is to come. People generally think of only prediction—-fulfillment. Not everything called “prophecy” in the Bible is predictive. Prophets forthtold God’s Word as well as foretold the future.

b. A prophet (Heb. nabi) is an authorized spokesperson for God with a message that originated with God and was communicated through a number of means. When God spoke to these spokespersons, they had no choice but to deliver that word to those to whom God directed it.

What does the word “Messianic” mean?

a.“Messianic” has a much wider range of meaning than “Messiah.” “Messianic” usually refers to everything in the Hebrew Bible when it refers to the hope of a glorious future.

b.“Messiah”-“Anointed One” (Heb. messiah),(Gk. Christos) is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.”

c. The Hebrew Bible records the anointing with oil of priests ( Exod 29:1-9 ),kings (1 Sam 10:1;2 Sam 2:4;1 Kings 1:34), and sometimes prophets (1 Kings 19:16b) as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. Also, when God anointed or authorized for leadership, in many cases he provided the empowering of the Holy Spirit to do complete the task (1 Sam. 16:13; Isa. 61:1). However, just because someone was anointed in the Old Testament to perform a specific task doesn’t mean they are “the Messiah.”

d. The messianic concept also has a wider dimension than the royal, priestly, and/or prophetic person. Included in this wider view are some of the characteristics, tasks, goals, means, and consequences of the messianic person.

e. To understand messianism, we need to first start by reading the Bible but also read extra-biblical Jewish literature including the Apocrypha, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Targumim, etc, (see Craig A Evans: “Introduction” to Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature).

f. Other names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One.”

What are the Various Types of Messianic Prophecy?

1.There are promises about the First Coming of Jesus–Direct Prophecies Note: All these texts must be studied in context and knowing some Hebrew helps as well.

a. Torah:  (Gen 3:15; 22;18; 49:8-12; Deut 18:15-19)

b. Prophets: (Isaiah 7:1-17; 8:9-10; 9:6-7; 11:1-2; 35: 5-6; 40:3-5 42: 1-6; 49:1-13;50:4-9;52:13-53:12  Isaiah 61:1-3; Jer: 23:5-6; Micah 5:2; Zech: 11:1-17; 12;10; 13:7; Mal.3:1)

c. Writings:(1 Chron.17:10b-14; Psalm 2:7-12;16:1-11;22:1-31;110: 1-7; 118: 22; Dan. 7:13-14; 9:1-27)

2. Prophecy that has Typological Fulfillment

a. The word “fulfill”- the Greek word for fulfill is “pleroo” which can  mean “render full,” “fill up” or “complete”- it means something broader than the “completion of a  prediction.”  An example of this is seen in Matt 5:17- fulfillment is seen in embodying, bringing to completion, or perfecting.

Some of the features of typology are the following:

1. The prophets did not so much make singular predictions but gave themes or patterns and that these themes have several manifestations or fulfillments in the course of human history.

2. The type and the antitype have a natural correspondence or resemblance. The initial one is called the type (e.g., person, thing, event) and the fulfillment is designated the antitype..

3. The type has historical reality (e.g., Paul declares that Adam “is a figure (a type) of him that was to come”, i.e., the Messiah).

4. The type is a prefiguring or foreshadowing of the antitype. It is predictive/prophetic; it looks ahead and points to the antitype.

One small piece of advice: Christians can abuse typology by looking for types all over the Hebrew Bible and saying they point to Jesus. So we need to expercise some caution int this area.

Let’s look at Romans 1:1-5

“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We see the following:

Paul says through the resurrection, Jesus is installed (by God) as the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Paul is not saying Jesus is being appointed as The Son of God is a change in Jesus’ essense. The appointment is not in terms of his nature but in terms of his work as a mediator—the messianic age has dawned. Jesus is the Lord—the anti-type of the previous “sons” in the Old Testament (Adam, David, Israel).

3. Prophecy that shows Prophetic Telescoping: These Prophecies Bridge the First and Second Coming of the Messiah

Prophetic Telescoping is prophecy that bridges the First and Second Comings of the Messiah. In this way, prophecy telescopes forward to a time. The prophets saw future events as distant “peaks” (i.e., events) without an awareness of the large time gaps between them. Also, the prophets understood that history had two major periods—the present age and the age to come–although they did not always make a hard distinction between the two. Prophetic Telescoping stresses progressive revelation which means that God does not reveal everything at once.

Example: Psalm 2: Does Jesus have universal dominion over the nations? We must remember that part of Psalm 2 is not fulfilled. This is what we call “prophetic telescoping.” Psalm 2 is one of several texts in the Hebrew Bible where part of the text is fulfilled in the first appearance of Jesus. But there is another part that will be fulfilled in the future. In this sense, Jesus will return and establish the earthly, national aspect of the kingdom of God (Is. 9:6; Amos 9:11; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Is. 11:11-12; 24:23; Mic. 4:1-4; Zech.14:1-9; Matt. 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). In other words, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).

 What role do presuppositions play in the understanding Messianic Prophecy?

a. A presupposition is something assumed or supposed in advance

b. Whether or not certain passages are clearly Messianic depend upon what the preconceived idea of the reader.  

c. Is the role of the Messiah to enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer.23: 5-8; Mic.5:4-6), and usher in a period of worldwide peace?

d. Is the role of Messiah to put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is.2:1-22; 25:8; 65:25; Mic.4:1-4) and create a pathway for universal worship to the God of Israel (Zeph.3:9; Zech.9:16; 14:9)?

e. Is the role of the Messiah to be a priest and king? Is He supposed to have an atoning role?

What About  Interpretive Issues with Messianic Prophecy?

a. In many cases prophecy may only be understandable by true believers under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (e.g.Luke 24:45;John 12:16).

b.  Messianic prophecy is not a series of independent prognostications, but a series of promises. There is one Messianic promise, which is revealed and expanded on throughout the Hebrew Bible (see Walter Kaiser’s The Messiah in the Old Testament).

cEach passage in the Tanakh  must be examined in its own context and on its own terms.  So Messianic prophecy is one promise developed in a progressive series of revelations rather than several disjointed predictions.   For example, in Isaiah 11, we see no mention of the word “Messiah.” However, we see a name for the Messiah (“Branch”). Isa.10-11 forms a symmetrical literary unit. Isaiah was writing about the fact that once God disciplined the sinful house of Assyria (10:1-34), Hezekiah would bring a golden age of prosperity and peace. There was a partial fulfillment of this prediction in that God did rescue Jerusalem from Sennacherib in 701 B.C, thanks to the faith of Hezekiah. But his alliance with Merodach-Baladan, king of Babylon and this led to he captivity (Isa 39:1-80). Isaiah thought there would be and social religious change with the royal anointing or birth of Hezekiah. But when we read Isa 11 within the context of the rest of the book of Isaiah, we see if what he wrote about was not fulfilled in his day, its entire fulfillment would go beyond the exile.

d. Remember the dual aspect of Messiah’s work as actually two comings of Messiah (the first time to suffer and the second time to reign). In Luke 24:25-27 Jesus says, “Was it not necessary for Messiah to suffer these things and to enter into His glory.” Also see 1 Peter 1:10-11.

Themes That Help in Interpreting Messianic Prophecy:

a. Promise Theme:  The NT uses the word “promise” to refer to the message of the Tanakh, but the Tanakh  itself does not have a consistent term to refer to this concept. A cluster of words is used, such as oath, word, blessing, promise, and others (See Kaiser’s Messiah in the Old Testament).

b. Walter Kaiser notes that “the substance of this `promise’ was most frequently, but not exclusively, embodied in the content of the various covenants.” He further adds that the promise also includes these concepts: “that the gospel was also for Gentiles… the gift of the Holy Spirit… the resurrection from the dead… redemption from sin… Jesus the Messiah.” (see Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward Rediscovering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1987).

II.  Mission in the Bible Theme:

 aThere was a universal purpose in God’s election of Abraham and of the people of Israel. They were called and brought into existence because of God’s missionary purpose for the blessing of the nations. Indeed, God’s commitment to Israel is predicated on his commitment to humanity as a whole.

bIsrael has an ethical, prophetic, priestly, and kingly role- this is tied to the role of the Messiah.

c. The Reign of God theme is very helpful as well. I have touched on that issue here:

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