Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 2, No. 1 Page 7 January 2000

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

An Introduction to A 
Study of Messianic Prophecy

By D. Gene West

When we were children in our Bible classes, our teachers sought to teach us the meaning of some of the words with which we would become very familiar, if we studied our Bibles as we should have.  We were told that a “Priest” was a man who spoke to God on behalf of man. Later we learned that a priest did much more than simply speak to God on behalf of man, but he also, under the law of Moses, offered sacrifices, and engaged in many rituals, according to the divine commands of God, that were designed to draw man closer to God.  Thus we came to appreciate the priest in the Old Testament system which, in turn, gave us a greater understanding of, and appreciation for the priesthood in which we serve under the New Testament dispensation.  We understand that as Christians each one of us is a priest, and we serve in our priesthood under Jesus Christ our great High Priest, who is after the order of Melchizedek.

In those same Bible school classes we learned other definitions of other important words such as the word “Prophet.”  We learned that a prophet was one who spoke to man on behalf of God.  In the Bible classes, in which I studied as a boy, we were taught these simple definitions that need to be taught again and again with each succeeding generation.  I have learned that many Christians want to define the word “Prophet” to mean one who predicts, or foretells the future.  That is not strictly true, because the prophets of Israel and Judah often spoke to their people about the past.  But it is true that the prophets spoke to man on behalf of God.  In the opening verses of the first chapter of the book of Hebrews, the author of that book declared this to be the truth.  He said, Hebrews 1:1-2, (1) “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets (2) has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds . . .”  We can see from these two verses that it was the prophets through whom God spoke in times past, that is, during Old Testament history. It is true then, that a prophet is one who speaks to man on behalf of God, and what that man speaks is called prophecy, whether it is spoken regarding something future to the prophet, something in the past before the prophet, or something that was current in the history of the nation, and in the time of the prophet.

According to Hebrews 1:1-4, our Lord Jesus Christ functions in three areas with regard to his relationship to his younger brothers and sisters, known as Christians.  He functions as our Prophet, our Priest, and our King. His functioning as King expresses the idea of his governing our lives.  His functioning as our great High Priest shapes the idea of our service to God in worship, and his functioning as Prophet expresses the idea of his teaching being our channel of religious instruction in all matters. The Author of the book of Hebrews gives us important and lasting instruction as to the priesthood of Christ.  The Gospel(s) present him as King, Suffering Servant, and Savior.  And the prophecy of Christ is scattered among the epistles, and other writings of the New Testament, and cover such things as his second coming, the apostasy to develop in the early church, false teachers who would bring that apostasy, the fall of the temple in Jerusalem, and many other phases of the Christian faith.

But in this study we are not going to center our attention on the prophecies which come from Christ, but the prophecies about Christ.  In order to do this type of study, we must, of necessity, turn to what is commonly referred to as the Hebrew prophets, although some of the prophecies we shall study were given by God before the Hebrew people ever came into existence.  As a matter of fact, the first prophecy we shall study came from God himself!  It was not given through any man, but came directly from Jehovah.  But before we get to this study, and the others, let us turn our attention to the essential principle of prophecy.

“Prophecy as religious instruction claims to come from God and to possess divine authority.  The prophet is an officer of the Deity, with a commission from the God whom he serves.”1   What we shall call “Hebrew Prophecy” in this study comes to us in a book called the Bible, and is as different from other forms of prophecy as the Hebrew religion was different from that of the pagans, and as the Hebrew God (Jehovah) was different from the deities of the pagans.  In the days of the Old Testament, prophecy was a special function of the religion of the Hebrews, and it has the essential characteristics of that religion, which means that the prophecies came from God to the prophets through a process called “inspiration.”  The Old Testament prophets were very much aware of this process, because literally hundreds of times we have such expressions as, “The Lord spoke by my mouth saying,” or “The Lord said to me, son of man, prophesy saying.”  These, and other equivalent expressions, found in the Old Testament demonstrate to the unprejudiced mind that the prophets were speaking by the inspiration of God, and were speaking the very words Jehovah desired that they should speak.  So completely did Jehovah control the process of prophecy in the Old Testament, especially those prophecies concerning the Messiah, that the prophets did not always understand what they were saying to the people.  The great Apostle Peter said of the salvation which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, that the prophets who prophesied of that salvation “searched diligently . . . of what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating . . .”  (See: 1 Peter 1:10-12)  In verse twelve of this reading the apostle pointed out that it was “. . . revealed” that this salvation was not coming to them, (the prophets) “. . . but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven --  things which angels desire to look into.”  Furthermore, the Apostle Peter, in 2 Peter 1:16-21, asserted that the prophets of the Old Testament spoke by the inspiration of God.  The text reads, in part, (2 Peter 1:19-21), (19) “We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; (20) knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, (21) for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”  Notice three important things which are emphasized in verses twenty and twenty-one: ( 1) “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation . . .”  This means that every prophecy of Scripture is not from the one who did the prophesying.  (The word “interpretation” here comes from a Greek word, which when spelled in English is: epiluseos, and it means “to loose, to solve, to explain, to interpret what is enigmatically and obscure. Analytical Greek Lexicon, p.158.)  If the Scripture prophecy was not from the prophet, one must ask, “From what source did it originate?” Peter answers that question by saying that “. . . prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”  Hence, what we are studying in the lessons to follow are Spirit inspired, inerrant teachings of God, both from him personally, and from him as the prophets were “moved” by the Holy Spirit to speak and write these prophecies regarding the Messiah, who at the time the prophecies were spoken, was the coming Messiah.  (2) It must be emphasized that these prophecies never came by the will of man. Then they must have come by the will of God, or of angels, or of the devil, or demons. What was the source?  Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. The prophecies came by the will of God as he, through the Holy Spirit, moved them to speak.  (3) The Holy Spirit was the medium through which Jehovah delivered his prophecies from heaven to man.  This is in harmony with what the Apostle Paul taught regarding the nature of inspiration in 1 Corinthians 2:1-16.

Having made these important observations, we must also notice then, that the prophets of Yahweh (Jehovah) spoke in the name of, that is, by the authority of Yahweh, just as the prophets of Baal spoke by the authority of Baal.  But those things spoken differed in that one set of the things spoken came from the true and living God, and the others came from a dead idol who could not call down fire from heaven to devour a sacrifice.  (See: 1 Kings 18)  The only way one can determine whether a prophecy is true or false, and therefore from the true God, or a false god is to apply the test of a prophet which is found in Deuteronomy 18:20-22.  This passage declares: (20) “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. (21) And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ (22) when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” The test is very simple, is it not? If a prophet speaks something in the name of God, and that thing does not come to pass, then the prophet is not to be recognized as one who speaks for God.  (Incidentally, this same test can be used on modern prophets who prophesy of wars, the end of time, or that certain nations will do certain things.  These “prophets” often speak things which contradict Scripture, so we do not want to listen to them at all.)  As we study the prophecies concerning our Messiah, we will also study whether or not these prophecies came to pass.  If they did, that will be one of many demonstrable evidences that our Messiah is indeed the Anointed One of God.  Hence, a study of messianic prophecy should strengthen the faith of the child of God, and create faith in the hearts of those who are not yet children of God.

Another important passage from the Old Testament which has a great bearing on the matter of the truthfulness of prophets and prophecy is found in Deuteronomy 13:1-2.  Here God said, (1) “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, (2) and the sign or the wonder of which he spoke to you comes to pass, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”  We should always be highly suspect of one who tries to lead us away from the true God, or the religion of the true God.  That person is not a friend to those whom he presumes to teach, and he is not the friend of the Lord of Hosts.  Jehovah said that we are not to listen to such a person, but remain constant in our allegiance to our loving God.  Down through the centuries, and even to the present time, there are those who say, “Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us serve them.”

Prophecy Concerning Jesus Christ

But speaking now more particularly of prophecy concerning Jesus Christ, we need to point out some very important matters.  “The most devastating, tragic, and ruinous event in the history of man -- carrying in its wake the most far-reaching influence for evil -- occurred in the Garden of Eden when Eve and Adam ate of the forbidden fruit.  However as soon as the act was committed, God announced a future event that would entail the unfolding of the most profound plans since the creation of the universe.”2   This “profound plan” was one that was eternal in its nature.  In Ephesians 1:3-14, the venerable Apostle Paul pointed out several important truths about God’s plan of salvation, and one of those important things was that this plan was made in the mind of God “. . . before the foundation of the world.”  Consequently, this plan was made in a time in eternity before the world, and the things therein were ever created, and this would include the creation of man.  This plan included the extension of the grace of God to mankind that we might be redeemed by the blood of Christ.  This was to be done in the dispensation (administration) of the fullness of times, or when the time was right in the sight of God.  Galatians 4:4 will define the phrase, “. . . the dispensation of the fullness of times.”  This redemption was “. . . according to the eternal purpose of God,” according to verse eleven.  These expressions, “. . . before the foundation of the world,” “. . . the fullness of times,” and “. . . according to the eternal purpose,” indicate that before the time of the creation God had fully planned for the redemption of man from sin.  This plan for the redemption of mankind through the blood of Jesus Christ, was to be found only in the mind of God, until he began revealing it to the prophets of the Old Testament. Little by little it was given to man in prophecy.

The Apostle Peter made virtually the same point in 1 Peter 1:17-21, when he wrote concerning the redemption of the saints through the blood of Christ.  In this passage he says, (17) “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear; (18) knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, (19) but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. (20) He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you (21) who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”  Peter tells us in these verses that the redemption through Jesus Christ “. . . was foreordained before the foundation of the world but was manifest (made known Par. Mine DGW) in these last times for you.”  The prophecies concerning Christ were a part of the plan that Deity made before the creation.  When God accomplished his eternal plan through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ it demonstrated the wisdom of God, (1 Corinthians 1:20) the power, the majesty and the glory of God.  We need to develop a deep reverence for the wisdom of man, who to this day has not come to comprehend this wisdom and act upon it by faith.

In the very opening of Paul’s inspired letter to the church at Rome, he pointed out that God had a great plan for the salvation of mankind through our Lord Jesus Christ, and that God had promised this before through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures.  The passage reads as follows: (Romans 1:1-4), (1) Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God (2) which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, (3) concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, (4) and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead . . .”  Here we see Paul introducing the gospel by saying that it was spoken by the prophets, and it was recorded in Holy Scripture. Following this introduction, Paul spoke of a world under sin, one hopelessly lost, separated from God.  Then by way of contrast, he pointed out that there is salvation for the lost through the grace of God, through the blood of Christ, and through the faith of man, all of which is revealed in the gospel of which Paul was not ashamed.

Paul concluded the letter to the Romans pretty much as he began it.  With a beautiful doxology that is as follows: (25)”Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began (26) but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith (27) to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.”  (Romans 16:25-27)  (The word “establish” in verse twenty-five means that God is able to establish us as being the saved, or redeemed throughout the ages.  This is done through the medium of the Spirit inspired gospel, which Paul calls “my gospel,” which was the preaching of Jesus Christ.)  Notice, if you will please, that this “. . . preaching of Jesus Christ” was done “. . . according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began . . .”  But in the Christian dispensation, which Paul refers to as “now,” that gospel has been made known “. . . by the prophetic Scriptures,” and “. . . has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God . . .”  It is to the prophetic Scriptures that we will appeal as we study Messianic prophecy.  After all, it is the purpose of the book of Romans to look at “. . . the Scriptures of the prophets . . .” so that men can recognize him as being the Redeemer of mankind.

One more point is to be made from the book of Acts before we pass on to other matters.  In Acts 3:14-18, we have part of the sermon that Peter preached in the porch of Solomon’s Temple.  He said to the Jews, (14) “But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, (15) and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. (16) And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. (17) Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. (18) But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.”  The great Apostle told them that they had “. . . denied the Holy and Just One, and asked for a murderer (Barabbas, Par. Mine DGW) to be given to . . .” them.  But he also pointed out that God had raised Jesus from the dead, and that the apostles were the witnesses of that resurrection.  Peter continued by saying in verse eighteen that these are the “. . . things which God foretold by the mouth of all his prophets, that the Christ would suffer . . .”  Then if we skip down to verse twenty-one we find Peter again speaking of Christ and saying that he was the One “whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”  Notice: God did the speaking, and he did so by the mouth of his holy prophets since the world began!  Looking further at the passage which follows (Acts 3:22-26), we find Peter saying that Moses prophesied of the coming of Christ as a prophet like to himself.  Then, in verse twenty-four, Peter said, “Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days.”  Again, notice that for centuries the coming of the Messiah for the redemption of mankind had been foretold by the prophets, including Samuel, and all the rest who had spoken.  Consequently, the Old Testament prophets had spoken voluminously of the coming of the Messiah, and it is to these prophecies we wish to give careful consideration.

In considering many of the prophecies concerning Christ we will begin with a study of the first prophecy to which we earlier made reference, (Genesis 3:15) and then proceed through the Old Testament noting those of major importance.  This type of study should take a year, or perhaps longer, according to the time that is allotted us in our Bible school classes.  We cannot cover every prophecy found in the Old Testament, nor can we cover those things that are thought to be Messianic prophecy by some readers of the Bible.  (Some are controversial among the scholars of the Bible, so we will study those which are known to be prophecies of Christ by the context in which they are found.)  This first prophecy did not come through any man, but was spoken by the mouth of Jehovah himself.  We need to approach this prophecy with reverence and awe, even as we approach “. . . all Scripture . . .” which “. . . is given by the inspiration of God.” (2 Timothy 3:10-17)  And now “. . . to the work, to the work . . .” as we strive to be servants of God.

One more brief point that we must cover is the fact that many, if not all, of the prophecies which we will be covering from the Old Testament will be what is called “predictive prophecy.”  “Predictive prophecy” is that prophecy which was to be fulfilled in a time future to when the prophet spoke it.  The first prophecy we shall study was spoken about four thousand years before the events to which it made reference actually came about in the world.  However, we wish to emphasize again that not all prophecy is predictive prophecy, as we would see if we were to study the whole of Old Testament prophecy.

Endnotes

1Charles A. Briggs, D.D., Messianic Prophecy, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1886, p. 2.

2Homer Hailey, The Messiah of Prophecy to the Messiah on the Throne, Religious Supply, Inc., Louisville, 1995, p.1.


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