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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






11 September 2008

Messianic Prophecies

Q: A university student writes: “I wrote an interview to ask both a Jewish person and a Christian to help inform my report ... about Messianic prophecy ... due this Sunday. Would you be willing to fill this out for me? 1. What is messianic prophecy? Is it prophecy that points to a savior and king of the world from God, or is it something else? 2. In your expertise do you know or believe that the Savior has come already? What is he supposed to do on earth? 3. Is messianic prophecy relevant to today?”

ScrollA: 1. Messianic prophecy is any writing or utterance pointing to the coming of one who has been anointed for a special task. Biblically, it encompasses all explicit or implied Old Testament predictions concerning the coming of the heir of King David, the fulfillment of Israel’s destiny, the Anointed One sent by God to save His people. Each instance of “Christ” in the New Testament parallels all Old Testament occurrences of “Messiah,” since both mean “one who is anointed.”

2. As a Christian, I believe that this promised Messiah came in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. I believe that He fulfilled all that was foretold “in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44)” including His suffering, death, and resurrection, and that He will return to judge the world and bring believers into everlasting glory.

His task was to live the perfect life that Adam and his progeny could not live because of their sins, to suffer the punishment rightly belonging to sinners, to die to atone for our sins, and to be bodily resurrected as the firstfruits of all who believe in Him. As we study “Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms,” we find that Jesus came — and accomplished everything — exactly as foretold.

Expulsion from EdenThe first such prophecy wasn’t made directly to mankind. Instead, we “overhear” God’s curse upon the Tempter immediately after Adam’s fall into sin: “The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this ... cursed are you.... I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.’ (Genesis 3:14-15)”

Saint Paul testified that Jesus came to “relive” Adam’s life and restore everlasting life: “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.... ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:22, 45)” Similarly, in Romans 5 he wrote, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men (v. 12)” but even though “because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (v. 17)”

Although not a direct prophecy, in Deuteronomy 34 the Holy Spirit “eulogized” Moses and his standing before the Lord: “There has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. (v. 10)” This remained the case until the One “worthy of more glory than Moses (Hebrews 3:3)” appeared. That Jesus eclipsed Moses shows in the Transfiguration (see Luke 9:28-36) when both Moses and Elijah deferred to Him as his “departure [exodus] (v. 31)” drew near. Hebrews 3:5-6 parallels the two by saying, “Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant ... but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. [emphasis added]”

The excellencies of Jesus, the Anointed One, show in comparison. Moses only held leadership for a time (he “was faithful”) while Jesus continues in His divine office (“Christ is faithful”). Moses was under authority, a “servant” who was faithful “in all God’s house.” Meanwhile, Jesus is the Authority, for He is the “son” who remains “over God’s house.”

Noah's ArkJesus expanded upon the Old Testament’s salvation events, fulfilling their intent and expanding their scope. Our baptism into His death and resurrection goes beyond the salvation granted through Noah (see 1 Peter 3:18-22) for we are saved not from drowning in a flood but from everlasting death in Hell’s prison. He completed the task of blood being shed to grant life, for “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. (1 Corinthians 5:7)” And while blood sacrifices for forgiveness were a continuing part of Israel’s worship life, Christ made one final sacrifice for the sins “of the people ... once for all when he offered up himself. (Hebrews 7:27)” Therefore, “by means of his own blood” He secured for us “an eternal redemption. (9:12)”

I’ve not even touched some of the most obvious Messianic predictions and foreshadowings, including the two most notable predictions of His suffering and death. Consider how Jesus appropriated Psalm 22 on the cross, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46)” This leads us to compare the crucifixion with the brutal events listed in the Psalm. The “Servant Songs” in Isaiah likewise point to the coming Messiah. Acts 8:26-40 shows the Spirit leading Philip the Deacon to a man puzzling over the song in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. The man asked Philip of whom the prophet spoke and Philip seized the opportunity and “beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:35)”

LionObvious prophecies include the eternal establishment of the “throne of David. (Isaiah 9:7)” The angel revealed to Mary that this belonged to her Son: “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David. (Luke 1:32)” However, some of the predictions were more obscure. For example, most people recognize the Messianic message in portions of Jacob’s blessing of his son Judah (Genesis 49:8-12). The “lion” of verse 9 reappears in Revelation 5:5, as John heard “one of the elders” say that “‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah ... has conquered.’” Similarly, the language of the “scepter” and the “ruler’s staff” in 49:10 surely points to the eternal reign of the Messiah.

Sometimes lost is the strong possibility that verse 11 also points directly to Jesus: “Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes.” The foal and colt remind us of Zecheriah 9:9 and its fulfillment on Palm Sunday. We get an idea of royal splendor with the wine-washed robes, dark eyes, and gleaming teeth while of blood and wine connect us to Calvary and Communion.

The Marriage at CanaYet what’s so Messianic about where the livestock is tethered? The time of Messiah was prophesied to be a time of free-flowing wine, illustrated by Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-11). In an agrarian culture based in a dry climate, even the wealthy often have little to spare and a small margin for error in planting and harvesting. If you need every grape in order to produce enough wine and raisins for the next year, why in the world would you tie your animals to the vines? A donkey will eat anything that’s green, so doing this invites disaster.

When could you afford such extravagance? Only if you already had more and better wine than ever imagined. More? How about 120-180 gallons (John 2:6)? Better? How about learning that “the good wine (2:10)” had just appeared? The Lord announced Himself through “this, the first of his signs (2:11)” as the New Judah, heir to the “scepter” and the “ruler’s staff” of Genesis 49.

3. These prophecies show that the life, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus were not random happenstance but were foretold by God so that when events unfolded, we could be certain of their divine origin. He has already paid for our sins, established a new relationship for us with our heavenly Father, and called His Church into being through His Word and Holy Spirit. The only unfulfilled prophecies involve His final return. The fulfilled predictions prepare us for the completion of the final prophecies when Christ comes to call us to our eternal home.

What could be more “relevant” than being prepared when the final prophesies — and our eternal destinies — come to pass?

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Newspaper column #549

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