One of the questions often raised by believers and unbelievers alike is how Jesus is predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures. It is very easy to read through the Old Testament and wonder where the Messiah, or the expectation of the Messiah fits in. Meanwhile, there is little to no doubt that Jesus came onto the scene and changed the course of history at a time when the Jewish community was eagerly waiting for, and expecting, their redeemer. So where did this understanding come from?
Part of the problem we run into when investigating these issues is our own mindset. We bring to the table presuppositions that have been influenced by our own culture and upbringing. Like it or not, our own thinking often clouds our judgement when it comes to approaching the Scriptures. We fail to read the Scriptures on it’s own terms and instead insert ours into the mix. Granted, there are many other factors at stake but it seems reasonable to me that we can hardly start to discuss those factors until we’ve removed some of our own misunderstandings.
One of those misunderstandings is the idea that we should expect our definition of prophecy to be demonstrated when it comes to Christ in the Old Testament. The western way of defining prophecy is a very strict and narrow view of prediction and fulfillment. Of course, the Scriptures do indeed demonstrate this in some incredible ways but when the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 40:8 in Hebrews 10:7 he writes “the volume of the book is written of me.” The Greek word kephalis (κεφαλίς) for volume speaks literally of the roll of a scroll. It can be understood idiomatically as the entirety of the writing or the whole purpose of the document. There are varying ideas as to just what document is being referred to but we could safely presume the Torah itself, the first five books of the Bible. Jesus, after his resurrection, taught from the entire Old Testament “the things concerning himself” in Luke 24:27.
The One Who Is To Come
I note all of this to say that instead of simply looking for Jesus in the Old Testament we might, at times, take a slightly different approach by looking for the Old Testament in Jesus. What I mean by this is that the Old Testament provides us the means by which we can recognize, or identify Jesus as the true Messiah. In Matthew 11:2-6 John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to inquire if Jesus is indeed the one who is to come. Jesus responds by offering his deeds as evidence that he is the Messiah who was promised. All of these deeds come out of the Old Testament, primarily the book of Isaiah, and had been accomplished by Christ in the previous chapters of Matthew. The passage reads:
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”1
This passage stuck out to me recently as one that is telling of John the Baptist’s humanity while offering an opportunity to dig deep into what the Scriptures have to say about the Messiah. I thought it would be enjoyable to take each of the items that Jesus gives as identifying characteristics with both their actual fulfillment in Matthews Gospel and the passages alluded to in the Old Testament.
Among Those Born Of Women
In Matthew 11:11 Jesus says of John that of every human being there is none greater. That is quite a statement and much could be said about it, but for the sake of this initial post I simply want to look at a couple of things that can be offered in regard to John the Baptist and his question. John had baptized Jesus in Matthew 3:13-17. In John’s question for Jesus he uses the same term “the one who is to come” (ὁ ἐρχόμενος) that he used in anticipation of Jesus in Matthew 3:11. This is also the same word used in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament in Psalm 118:26, one of the Psalms of assent sung at Passover where it reads “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” John is quite clearly intending the question to refer to the Christ, the Messiah.
John’s expectations of Jesus may very well have been similar to the expectations that everyone else seemed to have. The Jews were expecting a conquering king, a political figure that would throw the occupiers of first century Israel out and subsequently restore the throne of David. In Luke 4:18, Jesus is to proclaim liberty to the captives and now the one who baptized Jesus and proclaimed him to be the Messiah is in prison. Many accuse John of doubt, and in one sense I think they are correct but it may not be the sort of doubt that we tend to think of. I’m inclined to give John a bit more benefit than that. His question doesn’t in the least presume that John was doubting the coming Messiah. John is likely wanting clarification at this point. His question “are you the one who is to come” doesn’t end there. The followup “or should we look for another” tells me he never doubted the Scriptures. In his mind, Jesus wasn’t fitting the expectations that he had.
I really like what Craig Blomberg has to say about this. He writes:
The flow of thought of [Matthew 11:7–15] may be summarized in this fashion: despite John’s questions, he should not be seen as weak or vacillating. In fact, he is the greatest in a long succession of prophets. But great as he is, something greater is here, namely, Jesus and the kingdom.2
What You Hear And See
Jesus’ response in Matthew 11:4-6 is also telling. Jesus doesn’t rebuke John. Nor does Jesus give some simplified answer such as “you just have to have faith” like so many do today.3 Instead, he responds by pointing to his deeds, what they have heard and seen, ultimately letting John put the pieces together.
And as I hope to present, Jesus’ deeds that he answers with are hardly arbitrary. They fulfill the messianic expectation, the hope, that the Scriptures foretold in numerous ways. But in order to demonstrate that, we may need to get to know our Old Testament a little bit better. Hopefully the next few posts will help with that.
- All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. ↩
- Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (189). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers. ↩
- These same people will often not be able to give an appropriate definition for said faith. I firmly believe that answers like this should be avoided entirely. They do nothing more than evade the issues that are being brought up. ↩
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