“Out of Egypt I called my Son.”

The Lord called Israel out of Egypt… and 15 centuries later, called Jesus out of Egypt too.

Hosea 11.1.

When we fulfill scripture, we’re doing as it says. When Jesus says “Love one another,” Jn 13.34 and we do it, we’re fulfilling it.

I know: When people usually talk about fulfillment, we assume it means someone’s doing as predicted. When Jesus fulfilled the scriptures, we assume this means the scriptures prophesied specifically about Jesus, and Jesus did as the prophesies foretold. Sometimes that’s absolutely true. But sometimes it’s really not, and this confuses Christians all the time.

Confused me too, when I was a kid and first learned about taking the scriptures in context. Because I actually read the Old Testament, and read those passages in context… and wondered, “How on earth is that a prophecy about Jesus?” Well, turns out it wasn’t. The author wasn’t writing about Jesus at all. Nor was the Holy Spirit secretly dropping clues about stuff Jesus would eventually do.

Yet Jesus did fulfill these scriptures. Because he did as the scriptures say. True, the scriptures weren’t saying it about him. Yet Jesus did those things too—and in a greater way than the original situation. A fully-filled way, if you wanna be corny about it: A fulfilled way.

Or in some cases a less full way. Take this passage from Hosea, which is about the LORD’s difficult relationship with rebellious Israel.

Hosea 11.1-8 KWL
1 “For I love Israel. I called my son from Egypt.
2 But the Baals called to them, so they turned their faces from me.
They sacrificed to Baals and burned incense to idols.
3 I taught Efraim to walk—and he took hold of the Baals’ arms.
The Ephraimites don’t even know I cured them!
4 I dragged them from their slave chains with ropes of love.
To them I became like those who take the bit from their mouths, loose them, and feed them.
5 Israel won’t return to Egypt’s territory: Assyria is the king of those who refuse to repent.
6 Assyria’s sword wounds Israel’s cities, destroys his limbs, and eats up his plans.
7 My people insist on quitting me. They call upon the One God, but I can’t exalt them.
8 How can I give to you, Efraim? Can I reward you, Israel?
Must I give you what I did Admah? Must I place you where I placed the Chevohites?
My heart is overthrown within me: My compassion is all hot.”

The LORD freed Israel, whom here he calls “my son,” Ho 11.1 and freed him from Egypt and raised him… and Israel/Ephraim instead worshiped the nasty Baals and shattered their relationship with God into pieces. Much of Hosea is about this very topic, although sometimes it compares Israel to an adulterous wife, and here to a rebellious son.

And yet Matthew decided to quote Hosea in speaking of the LORD’s absolutely-not-rebellious-at-all Son:

Matthew 2.13-15 KWL
13 As the Zoroastrians returned, look: The Lord’s angel appeared to Joseph in a dream,
saying, “Get up. Take the child and his mother. Go to Egypt. Be there as long as I tell you.
Herod is about to look for the child, to destroy him.“
14 Getting up, Joseph took the child and his mother that night,
and escaped to Egypt, 15 and was there till Herod’s death.
Thus might the Lord’s word through his prophet be fulfilled,
saying, “I called my son out of Egypt.” Ho 11.1

Um… when the LORD said that bit in Hosea, he wasn’t talking about Jesus. It says right there in verse 1, “When Israel was a child…” Not Jesus; Israel. Not the good son who never, ever rebelled against his Father; the nation which arguably did nothing but rebel.

So is Matthew quoting Hosea out of context? Nah. Because Jesus didn’t accomplish the prophecy; he only fulfilled it. He did the same thing. He was in Egypt, same as Israel was once in Egypt, though as a political refugee not a slave. And at the right time, Jesus’s heavenly Father had Jesus’s adoptive father take their Son back to the promised land.

Where’d the wrong definition come from?

Frequently when I inform people how fulfillment works, they object: “I’ve never heard that definition before.” Or “That’s not how the dictionary defines it”—as if the dictionary sets the standard, instead of informing us how people commonly use a word.

People have been misusing “fulfillment” pretty much ever since the word was coined. Because people have misunderstood fulfillment ever since gentiles first became Christians.

Ancient gentiles were corrupted by the way prophecy worked in the Greco-Roman religions. Their “prophets” weren’t listening for God’s voice. They were practicing augury, or putting themselves into drug- or poison-induced trances, or in some cases actually hearing from demons. Their declarations about the future weren’t based on divine foreknowledge, but on their very best (or very wildest) guesses. Just to make sure these “prophecies” had a better-than-average chance of coming true, they kept things vague, and interpreted their oracles so loosely, just about anything could be a case of the prophecy coming to pass. Exactly like psychics and fortune-tellers and fake prophets today. Vagueness and loosey-goosey interpretations are how you know fraud is happening.

So when these gentiles became Christian, they brought their pagan understanding into Christianity with them. They didn’t understand what legitimate Hebrew and Christian prophets were doing. Nor why Matthew or John or Paul quoted bible to say, “This is like that”: They presumed the apostles were declaring, “This means that,” or even “This predicted that.”

I explain all this, and Christians still object. We grow attached to our favorite false beliefs, don’t we? Well, these folks are fond of their misdefinition. They believe the same as the ancient gentiles: The reason Matthew quotes Hosea is because the Hosea verse is about Jesus. Right?

Wrong. Jesus’s circumstances are like Hosea’s words. The LORD called Jesus out of Egypt, just like he did the Hebrews centuries before. It’s a case of history repeating itself.

And that’s important in the ancient Hebrew religion. Pharisees saw it as a sign of God’s sovereignty. It demonstrates he’s in control of the universe. If he weren’t, they figured history would be random and chaotic: Actions wouldn’t have consequences, causes would have all sorts of different effects, dogs and cats living together. But when there’s order and purpose in history, it implies God’s in control. That’s why the apostles were such big fans of fulfillment, and pointed to it whenever they could. That’s why Matthew quoted all these verses that, when you don’t realize what he’s doing, kinda look like he’s taking a whole lot of bible out of context.

Thing is, Christians don’t think that way about history. Annoyingly, it’s often because we don‘t know any history, so we don’t know where it repeats itself. Among those Darbyists who believe the End is coming “because things are worse than they’ve ever been”—they have no idea if this statement is even true, and just presume it is, because things seem worse than their own limited memories can remember. When someone who does know history tells them, “Oh, this is like that,” y’notice they get annoyed: “No it’s not like that. Because things are worse than they’ve ever been.” It’s a statement they wish was true, because they think Jesus won’t return till things are really, really bad. Then the rapture; then they believe things’ll actually get even worse.

Because of their ignorant perspective of history—and distorted, unbiblical view of the End Times—they don’t know when history repeats itself, and it means nothing at all to them when it does. If you ask ’em what they think is a sign of God’s sovereignty, they’ll immediately say, “The fulfillment of prophecy!”—by which they mean when the stuff God declared long, long ago, comes to be. That’s how they want fulfillment to work. That’s why they’re so annoyed when fulfillment turns out to be something entirely different: It burst their bubble. It feels like we just took away some of God’s sovereignty. (As if that’s even possible.)

I totally understand the disappointment people feel when they presume something’s one way, and it turns out they’re wrong. Been there, done that, own the T-shirt. What I don’t understand is when people go into denial, and double down on their wrong beliefs: “No, you’re wrong; fulfillment does mean when a prophecy comes to pass; I can prove it”—and then proceed to really twist the scriptures in order to make ’em do as they want. They claim it’s because they respect the bible. But their actions prove what they actually respect is the prideful feeling of being right. What they do to distort the bible surely ain’t respect for the word of God. Nor for God himself.

Fulfillment all over the New Testament.

So when we see an author of the New Testament quote the Old Testament (or even other parts of the New Testament), that’s what’s going on. Fulfillment. Somebody did as the scriptures said. Or something going on is like something that once went on before.

So John the baptist is like Elijah; he’s not literally Elijah’s second coming. Jesus is like Melchizedek of Salem; forget the popular loopy idea that Melchizedek was actually a pre-birth Jesus-appearance. The virgin giving birth to a son is like when someone in Isaiah’s day gave birth to a boy named Immanuel, ’cause as we all know, Joseph named him Jesus, not Immanuel. And when God had Joseph bring Jesus back from Egypt, it’s like when God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, and like the message he gave Hosea 800-some years before Jesus’s birth.

The events of Jesus’s life suit those words. Fill those words. Repurpose them to describe something else that happened which is like what previously happened. It might not be exactly like the previous event; it might be a really, really loose connection. That’s okay. The previous event wasn’t actually a prophecy of the later event.

It’s like pop culture references. Say someone is using a word wrong, like “fulfillment.” Say you respond, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Maybe in a Spanish accent… ’cause you swiped that line from The Princess Bride, where Inigo Montoya corrects Vizzini for overusing the word “inconceivable.” In its original context the line means one thing, but you don’t care about its original context; you’re quoting it because it’s well-known, and it’ll make people chuckle from the recognition—and from how appropriate it is to this situation.

Now, imagine someone said, “Wow! That line from The Princess Bride totally, accurately predicted this situation! It’s a prophecy!” You’d think that person doesn’t have the strongest hold on reality.

But that’s precisely what’s going on when Christians insist a bible verse, which in context clearly isn’t a prophecy about Jesus, is totally a prophecy about Jesus. Thus producing a whole lot of confusion in people who haven’t yet learned how prophecy, fulfillment, and bible quotes work… and in some cases, a whole lot of doubt in these very same people. How can you trust people who claim they follow the bible, yet take the bible out of context whenever it suits them? And claim their out-of-context quotes are really prophecies? And that these doubtful misquotes should nonetheless convince us Jesus is truly God’s son, our king, and our Lord?

Plus, you realize there are actual Old Testament prophecies about Jesus which are way more impressive. So let’s set aside the verses his behaviors fulfilled, and spend more of our time on those instead.