3 Principles for Exploring Messianic Prophecy

Edwin Blum  and Michael A. Rydelnik
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When the Lord Jesus met Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, He spoke of His own sufferings and glory: “beginning with Moses and with all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Lk 24:27). Commenting on this nearly a century ago, A. T. Robertson remarked in Word Pictures in the New Testament, “Jesus found himself in the Old Testament, a thing that some modern scholars do not seem to be able to do.” Robertson was jabbing the critical scholars of his own day, whose anti-supernaturalism kept them from recognizing any direct predictions of the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). However, today even among evangelicals, interpretive presuppositions have shifted to reflect a similar rejection of predictive messianic prophecy. Although some evangelical scholars may recognize direct messianic prophecies in the OT, it is becoming increasingly popular for many to assert that there are virtually no Hebrew Scripture predictions of the Messiah at all. Some evangelical scholars even insist that not one passage in the Hebrew Bible should be understood as directly predicting the Messiah.

This shift in thought is no minor issue. How messianic prophecy is viewed will ultimately affect the evangelical understanding of the inspiration and interpretation of the Scriptures, the defense of the gospel, and the identification of Jesus as the promised Messiah. In an article for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society entitled, “The Lord’s Anointed: Interpretation of Old Testament Messianic Texts,” Walter Kaiser captured the critical importance of recognizing the messianic hope of the Hebrew Bible:

This issue of the interpretation of the Messiah in the OT could be a defining moment for evangelical scholarship and ultimately for the Church’s view of the way we regard Scripture.” He adds the reason messianic prophecy is so pivotal: “But if it is not in the OT text, who cares how ingenious later writers are in their ability to reload the OT text with truths that it never claimed or revealed in the first place? The issue is more than hermeneutics; it is the authority and content of revelation itself!

Reclaiming and explaining messianic prophecy is vital to the health of the church, sound biblical exegesis, and the defense of the gospel to have a book that enables believers to understand the messianic nature of the Hebrew Bible. Here are a few basic, widely held principles of biblical messianic prophecy:

1. The Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16).

As such, the Scriptures are inerrant in their original manuscripts and trustworthy in all that they affirm and teach. Also, we all believe that the human authors of Scripture were superintended by the Holy Spirit (2Pt 1:21) and therefore their writings could include predictive prophecy. In the book of Isaiah, God revealed that He alone could predict the future. He says, “I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will” (Isa 46:10). Foundational to understanding messianic prophecy is that God could and did supernaturally reveal the coming Messiah to His ancient prophets.

2. All of the Hebrew Bible reveals the Messiah.

In a resurrection appearance in the upper room, the Lord Jesus gave His disciples a seminar on messianic prophecy. Just as He did with those on the Emmaus Road, He taught His disciples that the whole OT reveals the Messiah, saying, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Lk 24:44). The Lord’s point was not that there is one verse in each section of the Hebrew Bible that points to the Messiah. Rather, Jesus was saying that the whole Hebrew Bible, down to the DNA level, was messianic. The Messiah was to be found in the overall message of the Hebrew Bible, not just in some selected proof-texts. This perspective is similar to the famous rabbinic dictum of Rabbi Johanan, “Every prophet prophesied only of the days of Messiah” (b. Ber. 34b) and also underlies the apostle Peter’s statement, “All the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, have also announced these days” (Ac 3:24). It appears that both ancient Judaism and early Christianity also understood the Hebrew Bible to be messianic.

3. The Hebrew Prophets understood they were writing about the Messiah.

The gospel of John records a dispute between the first-century Jewish leadership and the Lord Jesus about His identity as the Messiah. He challenged them based on their allegiance to the Torah and Moses, saying, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me. But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (Jn 5:45-47). Jesus’ point was that anyone who actually believed in Moses’ writings would also believe in Him as the Messiah. Some have wondered that perhaps Jesus only meant that Moses wrote of Him unknowingly, not that Moses understood that he was writing about the Messiah. This does not make sense since the Lord was saying this in light of what would happen at the final judgment. How could Moses be the one to accuse them if he himself did not understand his own words? For Jesus’ words to have any force, Moses needed not only to write about the Messiah but also to understand that he was writing about the Messiah.

As we read the Scriptures, we should be like the Jewish people in the synagogue in Berea, long ago, “welcom[ing] the message with eagerness and examin[ing] the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

For Further Reading:

The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy

by Michael Rydelnik and Edward Blum

The ultimate, all-in-one resource on what the Old Testament says about Jesus As Jesus walked the Emmaeus road, he showed his companions how the...

book cover for The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy