Messianic prophecies.

Messianic prophecies are the scriptures in the Old Testament which are about messiah.

And by messiah (Hebrew מָשׁיִחַ/mešíyakh, “anointed [one]”) the scriptures mean somebody who’s put in a high authoritative position. Like head priests Ex 40.15 or the king. 1Sa 9.16 But over time messiah simply came to mean king—the guy the LORD chose to lead Israel, or at least Jerusalem and Judea. And when he became king, there’d be a ritual ceremony where someone dumped a hornful of oil (maybe about a liter) all over the new king, representing the LORD pouring out his Spirit upon the king… assuming the king bothered to listen to the LORD any. Most didn’t.

So since messiah means king, every king of ancient Samaria and Jerusalem—yes, even the rotten ones like Ahab ben Omri, Jeroboam ben Nabat, and Saul ben Kish—was a messiah. Seriously. In fact every time David ben Jesse was given the chance to kill Saul, or have him killed, he’d refuse—because Saul was messiah.

1 Samuel 26.9-11 KJV
9 And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the LORD’s anointed, and be guiltless? 10 David said furthermore, As the LORD liveth, the LORD shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish. 11 The LORD forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the LORD’s anointed: but, I pray thee, take thou now the spear that is at his bolster, and the cruse of water, and let us go.

“The LORD’s anointed” translates בִּמְשִׁ֣יחַ יְהוָ֑ה/be-mešíyakh YHWH, “the LORD’s messiah.” Love or hate him, Saul was selected as Israel’s king by God himself, and David knew better than to overthrow God’s will. Besides, David himself was anointed king, 1Sa 16.12-13 and knew it wouldn’t set the best precedent.

So that’s the Old Testament understanding of messiah, but of course Christians have a different one. By messiah we mean the Messiah, the final and best of all messiahs: Jesus the Nazarene. Our word Christ (Greek χριστός/hristós) likewise means “anointed [one],” same as messiah; it’s Jesus’s proper title as the rightful king of Israel, and conquering king of the world.

Jesus is the fulfillment of everything the title messiah carries. He was anointed by God, and has the Holy Spirit without measure. Jn 3.34 He has no successor; doesn’t need one, for he lives forever. He’s been Messiah way longer than any of the previous kings of Israel. And while David is considered the best of the Israeli messiahs, Jesus is even better. He rules righteously and infallibly.

Because of Jesus’s preeminence above all other messiahs, we Christians really can’t help but read him into every single messianic prophecy in the bible. Even though many of them are clearly about the other messiahs—about Messiah David, Messiah Josiah, Messiah Hezekiah, or even the filthy idolatrous Messiah Ahab. But Christians presume every last one of these messianic prophecies gets fulfilled by, or has its original meaning entirely overwhelmed by the similar actions of, Messiah Jesus.

“Lookit all the prophecies Jesus fulfilled!”

It really impresses Christians how Jesus fulfills ancient prophecies predicting his coming. Maybe too much. I’ve heard it taught there are more than 800 such prophecies, and Jesus fulfills every last one of them. What’re the odds?

And I’ve actually heard people offer calculations of these odds. Sometimes by borrowing a mathematician, though I have my doubts about these particular mathematicians. (You want a statistician, folks; not just any high school math teacher.) They regularly come up with all sorts of astronomical numbers, which we Christians find really impressive. But it’s in fact impossible to scientifically calculate the odds of prophecies coming true. For two reasons:

  • People playing loosey-goosey with what constitutes a “fulfillment” of a prophecy.
  • People deliberately fulfilling prophecies. Like Jesus did, and the scriptures bluntly stating he did. Jn 19.28 He didn’t stumble into fulfilling them; he deliberately knew what the scriptures said about him, and proactively fulfilled them.

Really, human relationships have far too many variables to calculate the odds. You can do with with junk science—and Christians are far too eager to adopt junk science to make our case—but it won’t convince skeptics. Especially skeptics who know better.

And here’s some more bad math: There actually aren’t 800 messianic prophecies. The true number is closer to 200.

Y’see some of us Christians, in our zeal to track down every last prophecy Jesus fulfilled, quote bible out of context. We claim something’s a messianic prophecy when really it’s not: It’s not a prediction of something messiah will do, nor a declaration of something a previous messiah had done. It’s just a random bible passage. But Jesus did something which sorta kinda resembles this verse, so we add these non-prophecies to an ever-growing verse count. This is how you inflate 200-some messianic prophecies to 800, then calculate the “odds” to get a far bigger number than 200 prophecies might get us.

And let’s not forget some messianic prophecies haven’t been fulfilled yet—because they refer to things which happen after Jesus’s second coming. He’s gotta come back to earth and establish his kingdom, and then those prophecies get fulfilled. Till then, no they don’t. Not that this has stopped Christians from adding these prophecies to their equations—because we believe they will be fulfilled, so don’t they count? Still no. Not yet.

So. When Christians don’t understand Messianic prophecies, and repeat all the impressive-sounding “facts” and “odds” we’ve been given, we open ourselves up to ridicule. And skeptics will eagerly pounce. All they need do is look up any of the “prophecies” which aren’t really about Jesus, read ’em in context, and say, “Oh come on. That’s clearly about something else.” Or look up one of the prophecies Jesus hasn’t yet fulfilled, and say, “Oho, what about this one? He didn’t fulfill this one. So much for your Messiah.” Skeptics have written books about the unfulfilled prophecies (real ones and fraudulent ones) and love to dig ’em out, point out our “errors,” and mock us. As, to be fair, our hubris deserves.

So let’s straighten out what a messianic prophecy properly is.

The coming Messiah.

We see a lot of messiah-talk in the Old Testament. Much of it has to do with one or another of Israel’s kings. But after Assyria invaded the north, and Babylon invaded the south, that was the end of the Israeli monarchy till 105BC, when head priest Judas Aristobulus took the title of king, and created the Hasmonean monarchy—which Antipater Herod overthrew less than a century later.

During the time between these monarchies, the LORD began to promise through his prophets he’d restore the monarchy. He’d install a new messiah. But not just any messiah: This would be a great messiah, a capital-M Messiah. He wouldn’t just rule Israel, but the world. He wouldn’t just have a long and prosperous reign, but reign forever. He wouldn’t just defeat Israel’s enemies, but eliminate them. Messiah would be Superman.

Included in the messianic prophecies was also the idea this Messiah would also suffer and die. Which was an impossible idea for the Heberws to accept: Their great and victorious leader was gonna suffer and die? Feh. So they ignored those particular prophecies. Some Pharisees even invented two messiahs: There’d be a priestly Messiah, and one kingly Messiah; a religious figure and a political figure. One would suffer and one would conquer.

Nope, they never considered the idea of a first and second coming, or the idea Messiah would die and be resurrected. To be fair, God never bluntly stated this was his plan. It’s why Jesus’s resurrection caught everyone by surprise. Everyone. Including his own students, and he actually told them the plan.

After Aristobulus created a new monarchy, it didn’t stop the Messiah-talk. In part because Pharisees weren’t at all happy with him. (His father left the Pharisees to join the Sadducees; he was too chummy with the Romans; he was from the tribe of Levi, and the prophets said Messiah would be from Judah like King David. Pick your reason.) So whenever the Hasmonean kings bugged the Pharisees, they’d grumble… then talk about how someday God would bring out his real Messiah, who’d show the pretender-king a thing or two. And the Romans too.

As we’ve seen in the United States, politics can twist religious beliefs all over the place. Same thing with Pharisees. That’s why so many of them didn’t recognize Messiah when he did show up. They expected a Messiah who suited their politics. Jesus didn’t do that. Pharisees had bent all the messianic prophecies to suit the Messiah they wanted—one who’d vindicate them, destroy their enemies, and do Pharisee-approved things. Whereas Jesus enraged them by violating any traditions he didn’t consider biblical. Consequently many Pharisees even conspired to kill him.

Jews still expect Messiah to come someday. (As do we Christians; as do the Muslims.) Many still expect him to be a political Messiah, who’ll do all the things Pharisees and legalists expect: He’ll ditch all his New Testament hippie talk, and smite the wicked like we want him to. Human nature hasn’t changed any in the past two millennia.

Identifying a Messianic prophecy.

It’s not at all hard to find messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. There are three types.

PASSAGES ABOUT KINGS. Nearly every passage which speaks of God’s relationship to his messiah (or as most translations put it, “anointed one”) is a messianic prophecy. Psalm 2 is an obvious example: It’s written for and about the kings of ancient Israel taking their throne and smiting their enemies. Since Jesus is likewise King of Israel, Psalm 2 is likewise about him. And he fulfills it more perfectly than any Messiah before him. When the LORD states—

Psalm 2.7-9 KJV
I will declare the decree: The LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. 8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. 9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

—Jesus fulfills this passage in ways David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and particularly Ahab, didn’t come close to fulfilling. Where the LORD tells the king, “You’re my son,” it means something far more significant in Jesus’s case (since he’s literally the son of God) than it did when somebody recited this psalm to, say, Josiah. When the LORD offers his king the entire world as his inheritance, it’s kind of a nice sentiment when said to the kings of ancient Israel… but Jesus really will inherit the planet, once he returns to rule it personally. This psalm was looking through and past the Israeli kings to its ultimate fulfillment in Christ Jesus.

(Yep, Psalm 2 is one of those Messianic prophecies which Jesus hasn’t completely fulfilled yet. It’s more about his second coming than his first. There’s more to look forward to!)

PASSAGES THE APOSTLES SAID WERE ABOUT JESUS. In this category we gotta be careful. There are two types of OT quotes in the New Testament: There are direct quotes, and there are peshér quotes.

Lemme explain the difference. In Acts 2, Simon Peter gave a direct quote. Goes like this.

Acts 2.25-31 KJV
25 For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: 26 Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: 27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. 28 Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. 29 Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. 30 Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; 31 he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. 32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.

Psalm 16, which Peter quoted, actually isn’t a messianic psalm. It’s a praise psalm. But it appears the Holy Spirit informed Peter it is actually about Jesus: David couldn’t reasonably have been talking about himself kept from rotting in the grave. Because in the Mount of Olives cemetery outside Jerusalem (which you can actually see from the temple; for all we know Peter was pointing directly at it as he spoke) David was rotting in the grave. Whereas Jesus hadn’t rotted in the grave; he was resurrected before any decay could even begin. Like David, the Holy Spirit empowered Peter as a prophet, and clearly told Peter this was a prophecy about Messiah. So that’s what Peter shared.

Then there are peshér quotes. This is when an apostle quotes the Old Testament because something resembles an OT passage. But the OT passage isn’t literally about what the NT writer was discussing. In fact, it appears to be quoted out of context. What the apostle was doing was alluding to the OT, rather than properly quoting it. It’s like the joke, “Polygamy is a sin, because Jesus said, ‘No man can serve two masters.’ ” No, it’s not at all what Jesus meant. But quoting bible was meant to make the saying memorable—which it does.

The Aramaic word peshér means “solving.” The Pharisees believed it a valid way to quote bible. So sometimes we see the apostles do it. (Though, you’ll find, not Jesus.) Because peshér can be so easily misunderstood—and misused—we need to avoid doing it nowadays, or make it very very clear we’re only borrowing biblical language, not quoting bible. Still, sometimes we see the apostles do it in the New Testament. Matthew does it a lot.

Matthew 2.14-15 KJV
14 When [Joseph] arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

Now here’s the Hosea passage Matthew alludes to.

Hosea 11.1-2 KJV
1 When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. 2 As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.

Is the Hosea passage about Jesus? Good lord, no! The LORD clearly stated he was speaking of the people of Israel. Because Jesus never sacrificed to the Baals, nor worshiped idols of any kind.

So how on earth can Matthew quote this passage about Jesus? Because Matthew doesn’t actually claim it’s about Jesus. It only says Jesus’s circumstances fulfilled it: The angel summoning the Holy Family out of Egypt is like God calling Israel out of Egypt. That’s all. The Hosea quote is not at all a messianic prophecy.

How do we know the difference between a valid Messianic prophecy, and a peshér quote? Simple: Look up the quote. If it’s quoted in context, it’s a Messianic prophecy. If it’s not, it’s a peshér passage.

END TIMES PASSAGES. These are some of the many prophecies about what God will do at the end of time, on the Day of the LORD. Since Jesus is the LORD, and the master of the End Times, he will be doing these things, as Revelation makes clear. So yeah, Messiah’s involved in End Times activities like this one.

Malachi 3.17-18 KJV
17 And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. 18 Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.

In Revelation, John quoted a whole lot of Old Testament. He made it clear Jesus is the person of the trinity who judges the world and spares his saints. Whenever we read about End Times judgment in the OT, we’re reading about Jesus. We’re reading messianic prophecies of his second coming.

Bear in mind a lot of these prophesied events have already happened. God doesn’t just judge people at the End: He’s judged nations and people-groups all throughout history. He judged Israel many times in the Old Testament, and had ’em suffer the consequences for their sins. There have been many Days of the LORD.

So never assume every single prophecy about judgment will happen in the future. Darbyists make this mistake all the time, which is why their End Times timelines have way more wrath and destruction than Revelation does. History does repeat itself, so there’s every possibility some prophecies may be again fulfilled at the End. But everything that had to happen before the End can come, has. Jesus can return at any time. If you’re waiting on certain world events to happen first, don’t.

Besides, if Jesus doesn’t yet come back for the whole world, he could come for you at any time. None of us knows how long we have to live. Always be ready.

Reminders aren’t prophecies.

So you see how some so-called “messianic prophecies” aren’t really. Even so, many a Christian will insist they are. And we’ll scour the bible for more. Some of us will take whatever we can get; we’re not picky! But skeptics are, and we have to remember some of our so-called “messianic scriptures” are gonna strike them as goofy nonsense.

Fr’instance we take Old Testament stories which sorta remind us of Jesus. Like when Abraham’s instructed to sacrifice his only son. Ge 22 Since that resembles where the Father had to sacrifice his only-begotten, we’ll claim the Abraham-sacrificing-Isaac story is a no-foolin’ prophecy about Jesus.

No it’s not. It’s just history repeating itself, as it does. All the time.

Nowhere in the scriptures does someone point to this story and say, “This is how we knew God was gonna take away the world’s sins through Jesus.” No ancient Hebrew said Messiah would do likewise. No ancient Hebrew was meant to. This story certainly reminds us of Jesus, but it doesn’t reveal Jesus—just like walking past a mustard tree, or watching people catch fish, or noticing a hospital treats lepers, can certainly remind us of Jesus. But none of these things reveal him. Reminders aren’t prophecies.

And no, just because loads of Christians claim, “It looks like a messianic prophecy,” this doesn’t make it so either. Popular doesn’t mean true.

If you can’t naturally deduce Messiah from it, if God never informed one of his prophets it’s actually about Messiah, it’s not. Trying to pull Messianic prophecies out of thin air simply makes us look ridiculous to skeptics. As it should. It’s ridiculous to manufacture messianic prophecies and point to them as proof of Jesus, when there are so many valid prophecies which we can study and quote far more profitably.