Only one person can claim to fulfill ALL Old Testament prophecy about the coming Messiah. Jesus!
One reason that Old Testament prophecy is so important to Christians is that over 300 predictions, like the threads of a tapestry, establish the Messianic credentials of Jesus.
Put another way, the Old Testament is like an intricate jigsaw puzzle. The numerous pieces, on their own, are puzzling — until they are assembled enough to fill out the intended picture. Thus, the New Testament is the decryption key for unlocking Old Testament meaning.
Just a handful of prophecy that Jesus fulfilled: He was born in Bethlehem, preceded by a messenger (John the Baptist), entered Jerusalem on a donkey, was betrayed by a friend who received thirty pieces of silver, was silent before His accusers, and died in the manner Romans used for criminals (crucifixion), during which they pierced His hands and feet.
Peter Stoner, in his classic book Science Speaks, calculated the chance of any man fulfilling these prophecies, even down to the present time, to be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000 (10 to the 17th power). How can anyone think that Jesus just “happened” to be in the right place at the right time? It’s no coincidence.
Jesus Beat the Odds
To help us visually comprehend the staggering odds of this probability, Stoner proposed that we take that many silver dollars and lay them across the state of Texas. In doing so, we’d find they would stack up across the state two feet deep. But wait; there’s more! Now mark one of the silver dollars, and stir up the entire mass of coins. Then blindfold an enthusiastic volunteer and tell him that he can travel as far as he likes across Texas, but that he *must* pick out the marked silver dollar. THAT is how difficult it would be for one single man to fulfill the 300+ prophecies.
Stoner then upped the ante significantly: he found that the odds of any man fulfilling even 48 of the 300+ Old Testament prophecy jumped to 10 to the 157th power!
Jewish scholars understood and interpreted their sacred Scriptures as being capable of multilevel meaning; that in a narrative text, a detail or element could appear significant enough for a reader to feel it hint at a larger idea, even as it remained part of its own story. Centuries of biblical interpreters have followed the lead of the authors of New Testament scripture, who quote Old Testament prophecy to show how it foreshadows Jesus as Messiah. Of course, interpretation using this method must take care to be faithful to the original narrative.
Three side-by-side examples of how the New Testament builds upon an element (which scholars refer to as a “type”) in the Old Testament:
Christ Our Passover Lamb
Old Testament: “Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Pick out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb” (Exodus 12:21).
New Testament: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
The festival of Passover celebrates God’s deliverance of the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt. As we know from Bible history, Pharaoh’s continued stubbornness to release the Israelites resulted in the tenth and final plague — the death of every firstborn. The Jews, by smearing the blood of a spotless lamb upon the doorposts of their home, were passed over and didn’t suffer this consequence. The Egyptians, including Pharaoh, lost their firstborns.
By accepting Christ — by applying His blood to the doorposts of our hearts, so to speak — we escape judgment and eternal separation from God. Scholarly sources tell us unanimously that Jesus was crucified around Passover, which further reinforces His identity as the Passover lamb. The unblemished lambs that the Jews sacrificed were selected five days before they were slaughtered. Similarly, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem five days before the Passover sacrifices in the temple; He entered Jerusalem on the day of lamb selection, choosing to become the ultimate Lamb of God.
He Was to Enter Jerusalem On a Donkey
Old Testament: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
New Testament: “And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as He rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near — already on the way down the Mount of Olives — the whole multitude of His disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen” (Luke 19:35-37).
A “Light” to the Gentiles
Old Testament: “And now the Lord says, He who formed me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob back to Him; and that Israel might be gathered to Him — for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength — he says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will might you a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth'” (Isaiah 49:5-6).
New Testament: “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:47-48).
Just this morning I was reading Isaiah 53. The entire chapter talks about Jesus as Christ. Just a few verses (4-6):
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Three Objections by Skeptics
Skeptics object to the claim that numerous passages of Old Testament prophecy foreshadow events in the life of Jesus. They counterclaim that the New Testament writers purposefully shaped their material to match passages in the Old Testament. They also assert that the New Testament writers stretched the meanings of obscure references, and that they took those references out of context, by adopting a word or detail and inserting it into an event in the Gospels.
Skeptic Objection #1: The Gospel writers deliberately crafted their biographies of Jesus to make Jesus appear to fulfill Old Testament prophecy.
We have several reasons to believe the Gospel writers reported Jesus’ life and words accurately — and did so even at the risk of persecution. They did not play to what their audiences likely expected. We have to remember that at the time the Gospels were written, the Christian church was enduring considerable persecution. Many Christians were martyred for their faith in excruciating and inhumane ways, including crucifixion, being burned alive, or being fed to wild animals. The Gospel writers had nothing to gain from inventing yet another new religion — and everything to lose. Too, they didn’t make Jesus sound high and mighty, but low and humble, as was His purpose in giving up His life. If the Gospel writers were intent on growing their numbers, they wouldn’t have offered up, as Messiah, a man who, in no way, represented the conquering hero that the Jews were expecting. Jesus freely allowed Rome to kill him, so that His purpose was fulfilled.
Skeptic Objection #2: Old Testament types and foreshadowings are typically stretched and contrived, and therefore offer little evidential support for Jesus being the Messiah.
It is certainly true that some Christians have tended to stretch Old Testament typology or suggest hidden symbolism that might not exist. But we have only two options to consider here: The close correspondence between Old Testament texts and New Testament details of Jesus’ life can *only* be explained by 1) purposeful contrivance or 2) divine orchestration. As I hope you can see, a compelling cumulative case for Jesus as the Messiah clearly weights the evidence toward the second option.
Skeptic Objection #3: The Gospel writers took Old Testament texts out of context in order to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.
Many New Testament writers quoted Old Testament words and set them in a new context, as did both Jews and later Christians who wrote commentaries to interpret Old Testament passages. In the early centuries of the church, different schools of thought arose concerning how this should be handled.
The interpreters of the School of Alexandria, for example, were comfortable taking a word or detail out of its original context in order to illustrate and reinforce a spiritual interpretation. In contrast, the scholars in Antioch emphasized the importance of retaining the meaning of the original historical context, even when reverent contemplation of the text suggested a concept that allowed additional applications.
Diodore of Tarsus, who died about AD 390, was a leader in this second school of thinking. The methodology that he described emphasizes a careful study of the original language, in order to understand the historical substance and plain literal sense of the text as the foundation for understanding its deeper meaning. He sought to carefully guard against overzealous and overreaching applications. Theologian Christopher A. Hall puts it this way: Diodore’s aim was to guard against the creation of meaning “out of thin air.”
In the same way, Augustine of Hippo, in his On Christian Doctrine about rules for the interpretation of Scripture, distinguished between details that are simply in the narrative, and details that are in the narrative but also appear to be signs of higher meaning.
A basic point to remember: it was Jesus’ own behavior and statements that prompted the New Testament writers to recognize His resonance with Old Testament scriptures. Again, going back to the puzzle analogy: the more the puzzle was put together, the more it began to showcase Jesus.
Summary of Old Testament Prophecy Fulfilled by Jesus
Speaking of puzzle pieces, let’s conclude this blog post with a list of Old Testament prophecy that you can read for yourself. This exercise will be so worth the investment of your time, if you truly want to confirm what Scripture says. To have a Bible that you never open completely defeats the purpose of God giving His Word to us, right? Treat the Bible as your study guide, not a relic so sacred that it can’t be opened — or marked up! God is surely okay with your highlighting any passages that speak to you, in whatever hue of highlighter you choose!
His Nativity and Early Years
The fact: Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 7:14; Jeremiah 31:22
The place: Numbers 24:17, 19; Micah 5:2
Adoration by Magi: Psalm 72:10, 15; Isaiah 60: 3, 6
His Mission and Office
Mission: Genesis 12:3; 49:10; Numbers 24:19; Deuteronomy 18:18-19; Psalm 21:1; Isaiah 59:20; Jeremiah 33:16
Prophet like Moses: Deuteronomy 18:15
Conversion of Gentiles: Isaiah 11:10; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalms 18:49; 19:4; 117:1; Isaiah 42:1; 45:23; 49:6; Hosea 1:10; 2:23; Joel 2:32
Ministry in Galilee: Isaiah 9:1-2
Preaching: Psalms 2:7; 78:2; Isaiah 2:3; 61:1; Micah 4:2
Rejection by Jews and Gentiles: Psalms 2:1; 22:12; 41:5; 56:5; 69:8; 118:22-23; Isaiah 6:9-10; 8:14; 29:13; 53:1; 65:2
Persecution: Psalms 22:6; 35:7, 12; 56:5; 71:10; 109:2; Isaiah 49:7; 53:3
Triumphal entry: Psalms 8:2; 118:25-26; Zechariah 9:9
Betrayal by friend: Psalms 41:9; 55:13; Zechariah 13:6
False accusation: Psalms 2:1-2; 27:12; 35:11; 109:2
Silence under accusation: Psalm 38:13; Isaiah 53:7
Mocking: Psalms 22:7-8, 16; 109:25
Psalms 2:7; 16:8-10; 30:3; 41:10; 118:17
Psalms 16:11; 24:7; 68:18; 110:1; 118:19
His Second Advent
Psalm 50:3-6; Isaiah 9:6-7; 66:18; Daniel 7:13-14; Zechariah 12:10; 14:4-8
His Universal, Everlasting Dominion
1 Chronicles 17:11-14; Psalms 2:6-8; 8:6; 45:6; 7; 72:8; 110:1-3; Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 7:14
Did Jesus fulfill Old Testament prophecy? Yes! But study to know for yourself.
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!
If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.