Almost a millennium and a half prior to the birth of Jesus, God began to give His people an enormous amount of specific information about Jesus’ life and ministry.
In his Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, J. Barton Payne itemized 127 Messianic predictions involving more than 3,000 Bible verses, with a remarkable 574 verses referring directly to a personal Messiah! My book The Messiah in the Old Testament examined 65 direct prophecies about the Messiah. These incredible promises formed one of the most central themes of the Old Testament: the coming Messiah.
The word “Messiah” or “Anointed One” (or in Greek, “Christ”), is taken from Psalm 2:2 and Daniel 9:25-26. The term took its meaning from the Jewish practice of anointing their priests and kings. But this term was applied in a special sense to the future Ruler who would be sent from God to sit on the throne of David forever. He is the One that God distinctly identified many years ahead of His arrival on earth, as Acts 3:18 affirms: “But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ [Messiah] would suffer” (NIV).
Likewise, according to 1 Peter 1:11, the Old Testament prophets predicted “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (NIV). The Messiah’s coming was not a secret left in a corner, but the repeated revelation of God to His people in the Old Testament.
Here are some of the definite clues about this coming that God gave in the Old Testament:
- The Messiah would be the seed/offspring of a woman and would crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15).
- He would come from the seed/offspring of Abraham and would bless all the nations on earth (Genesis 12:3).
- He would be a “prophet like Moses” to whom God said we must listen (Deuteronomy 18:15).
- He would be born in Bethlehem of Judah (Micah 5:2).
- He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).
- He would have a throne, a kingdom and a dynasty, or house, starting with King David, that will last forever (2 Samuel 7:16).
- He would be called “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” “Prince of Peace,” and would possess an everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 9:6-7).
- He would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, righteous and having salvation, coming with gentleness (Zechariah 9:9-10).
- He would be pierced for our transgression and crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5).
- He would die among the wicked ones but be buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9).
- He would be resurrected from the grave, for God would not allow His Holy One to suffer decay (Psalm 16:10).
- He would come again from the clouds of heaven as the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14).
- He would be the “Sun of Righteousness” for all who revere Him and look for His coming again (Malachi 4:2).
- He is the One whom Israel will one day recognize as the One they pierced, causing bitter grief (Zechariah 12:10).
The prophecies about the Messiah were not a bunch of scattered predictions randomly placed throughout the Old Testament, but they form a unified promise-plan of God, where each promise is interrelated and connected into a grand series comprising one continuous plan of God. Thus, a unity builds as the story of God’s call on Israel, and then on the house of David, progresses in each part of the Old Testament.
However, this eternal plan of God also had multiple fulfillments as it continued to unfold in the life and times of Israel. For example, every successive Davidic king was, at once, both a fulfillment in that day as well as a promise of what was to come when Christ, the final One in the Davidic line, arrived. Each of these successive fulfillments gave confidence that what was in the distant future would certainly happen, because God was working in the fabric of history as well. And although the promise was made to specific persons, such as Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David, it was cosmopolitan in its inclusiveness. What God was doing through Israel and these individuals was to be a source of blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3).
Some insist that the Messiah whom Christians revere is not the same one that Jewish people also look forward to meeting. Some years ago, I had an opportunity to be part of a televised debate with a rabbi who is a Jewish New Testament scholar around the question, “Is Jesus the Messiah?” The rabbi explained the Jewish point of view: “Evangelicals believe the Messiah has two comings: one at Christmas and one at His second coming. We Jews believe He will only come once, at a time of peace on earth just as the prophet Zechariah declared in Zechariah 12-14. Since we still experience wars, Messiah has not yet come.”
I responded, “It says in Zechariah 12:10 that ‘They will look on me.’ Who is the one speaking here?”
He replied: “The Almighty, of course.”
I responded, “It says, ‘They will look on me, the one they have pierced.’ How did He get pierced?” He answered that he did not know. I said, “I have an idea. It was at Calvary.” He did not counter with any further argument.
The Bible is saying that on that future day of His Second Coming, Jews and Gentiles will personally see the One who was pierced for the sins of the world. In other words, that “future day” will not be the first time they have seen Him. So even the Old Testament, it turns out, anticipated two comings of the Messiah: one at His birth and another when He comes as triumphant king at His Second Coming.
What would this world be like without the Messiah? What would Christmas be like without the fulfillment of all those ancient promises and the prospect of Messiah’s coming yet once more as King of kings and Lord of lords? His arrival has made the difference between light and darkness itself. Think what His triumphal appearance once more will mean to this world. Everyone, including all of nature itself (Romans 8:20-21), will let out a burst of praise such as has never been heard: Here comes the King Himself, our Lord and our Savior! Joy to the World!