About Jesus Christ: Chapter 9
JESUS’ GREAT CONVERSATION ON PROPHECY
The first day of the week, after the Friday we call Good, two of Jesus’ followers were making their way to a small village outside of Jerusalem. Emmaus, some seven miles away from the city where Jesus had been crucified, would be virtually unknown to us were it not for this story. And these two disciples received teaching that probably no others have ever heard. Jesus was the teacher and the topic was Old Testament prophecy. As the two later thought about their experience, they could only declare: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
One of the arresting comments Jesus made to Cleopas and the other disciple was, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” The two men were confounded. They tried to explain to Jesus why they were downcast and why they saw the events of the past three days as a complete disaster. This great teacher and healer, “powerful in word and deed before God and all the people,” they said had suffered a humiliating defeat. He was publicly tried, convicted and crucified as a common criminal. What possibly could be worse?
However, Jesus told them that not understanding the Scriptures made it nearly impossible to evaluate these recent events. The answer to their question was in plain sight, he said. The catastrophe you are describing was outlined clearly from the very beginning of the Old Testament Scriptures. Here is how he put it: (Luke 24) 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Jesus’ description of the events ended in glory, not catastrophe. So in our quest to appreciate how a first century Jew could see Jesus as the Messiah, we turn to the Old Testament prophecies of which Jesus spoke. We will look at a number of both general and specific predictions that were made hundreds of years before the advent of Jesus and the events of that week.
In the New Testament, we notice a common thread regarding the Jewish people: They knew the Old Testament Scriptures. They were familiar not only with the stories of some of our favorites, King David, Moses, Daniel, Queen Esther, Ruth and others, but they were vigilant in following the dictates of the ceremonial regulations. They knew their Scriptures and were often willing to defend it in public.
You noticed above that the record states Jesus began “with Moses and all the prophets.” That must have been a mighty sermon Jesus gave the two disciples. Since there is abundant Scripture at our disposal, we will not attempt to touch on every prophetic passage about the coming Messiah. We will select an Old Testament quotation and relate it to its New Testament fulfillment. And since Jesus began with Moses, that’s where we will start. For your own benefit, it would be good to review Luke 24 to get the full thrust of the conversation between Jesus and these disciples.
The day for the two disciples had begun with lost hope and a shattered faith. They admitted they had high expectations about this man from Nazareth, but these were crushed as they saw his broken and bloodied body hanging from those rough pieces of timber—the cross. So, Jesus began with Moses. We don’t get far into the writings of Moses before we find a stream of light still visible today. Listen to these words from Genesis 3:
14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Here, at this early moment in the history of humankind, an intense animosity is placed between the woman and the reptile, a figure of Satan. (By the way, do you know any woman who wants to have a snake slithering through her home?) The text narrows down, though, to a single person in verse 15: “He will crush your head even though you will strike his heel.”
Yes, Evil One, you will have your day on Golgotha (Mt. Calvary), but the man from Nazareth will crush your power to control the human race. That prophetic promise was realized on that Friday called Good and finalized on the first day of the week. Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled God’s promise to conquer sin and Satan. (Read more about it in Luke 23, 24; John 19, 20; Mark 15, 16; Matthew 27, 28).
We don’t usually think of Israel’s second king, King David, as a prophet. Yet he was! The Scripture we will look at takes us from the “big picture” we just saw in Genesis, to many of the details of what happened on that Good Friday. I would suggest that you first read through Psalm 22:1 – 18, from the hand of King David. It is one of the great chapters of Scripture.
For the director of music.
To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.”
A psalm of David.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
5 They cried to you and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
6 But I am a worm, not a human being;
I am scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say,
“let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”
9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me feel secure on my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
In this Psalm, you will find pictures of people who didn’t appear for about 1,000 years. Yet, here we have them in graphic detail,as they would be seen during the last hours of Jesus’ life as Roman hands executed him. If you read the chapters from the gospels identified earlier, you will recognize them here. Primarily, you will see Jesus, speaking from the cross as the unruly mob stalked around the three crosses on Golgotha that Friday. Jesus can hear the cursing, jeering and mocking shouted at him while he is in bitter agony. Joining the soldiers and the crowds around his cross were the chief priests and others from the religious class.
The main character seen in Psalm 22 acknowledges his mother and his holy appointment to the tasks God gave him. At the foot of the cross, 1,000 years later, Mary his mother was present and saw the awful humiliation of her first-born son. Yes, his closest followers largely abandoned the central figure on that hill. If at all, most were at the furthest fringes of the crowd. But not the bulls and lions—the guardians of government from Rome and in Jerusalem. They were the ones who stretched him out on the wood, pounding the nails through his hands and feet. They took no pity on the innocent One.
In this Psalm, you see the picture of the crucified, hundreds of years before crucifixion became the form of execution by the government. Israel’s punishment for capital crimes was stoning, but as you read these verses, you can see the victim hanging on a cross. And history tells us that thousands were executed in Israel by the Roman Empire. None were like this one whom the leaders, both religious and political, knew that an innocent and pure and truthful man was being executed.
Complete shame is thrown upon Jesus as he is stripped naked. His clothes become the object of the final act of outrage as soldiers gambled for his clothing. And while his mother weeps at his feet, the shameless mob leer and jeer and mock the very one who prays for their forgiveness. It may appear as a blurry picture from the distance of so many centuries. It is, however, a story that the devout 1stCentury Jew should recognize and acknowledge that God had spoken, both in prophecy and in fulfillment. And have you seen and heard and believed?
In Isaiah 53, we have another great chapter of Scripture. While Psalm 22 largely painted the picture of Jesus’ death, this chapter gives us the purpose of Jesus’ death. It is the proclamation of the Gospel from the Old Testament. So as Jesus talks with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, he discloses the effects of the events of the last three days.
Yes, he was despised and rejected, but Jesus now explained through Old Testament writings the divine purpose. God’s plan was to bring redemption to mankind. Like sheep, we had gone astray and the Great Shepherd of the sheep made possible our salvation. As you read through the following verses, take some time to write down what you see as God’s plan.
1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 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. 6 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. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Again, from these verses write down what you see, comparing your list with what you saw from the last chapters of the four gospels. (John 3 and Romans 3 are also good reference points for your comments.)
Since this section is not an exhaustive look at the Old Testament prophecy, let’s take another reference that has specific bearing. It has to do with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. You will recall that wise men came to King Herod inquiring about the whereabouts of the “new king of the Jews.” Micah is significant because the 1st Century religious leaders knew without question where to locate this verse when Herod asked the question.
As you read Matthew chapter 2, you will see a puzzling picture. A caravan of “wise men,” probably astrologers, traveling many miles, arrives in Jerusalem. They had seen a bright object in the nighttime sky that they believed was a sign of the birth of a new king. Their question to Herod: Where can we find this “prince”?
Although King Herod didn’t have the answer to the question from the Magi, he certainly wanted to find out. He wanted no competition for his throne. So he asked the religious leaders if they knew anything about this event. The Chief Priests knew where to look: They went to the Scriptures—to the prophetic writings of the Old Testament. And that is the puzzling part of this story. King Herod didn’t know where to look, but he followed through with his inquiry. The Scribes and Chief Priests knew where to look, but they gave no further attention to the event or the wise men. As much as the religious leaders claimed their interest in the coming of the Messiah, they let it go.
Listen to the religious leaders’ response that came from the book of Micah:
Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
That is no small prophecy! And it links up with verses from Luke chapter 2:
“Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:4-7)
You can now see the full outline of the puzzle. One group ignored the evidence before them and never went to Bethlehem. Another acted out of self-interest and followed through. One person knew nothing about prophecy but went to the group that knew the Scriptures and got the answer. The group that had the knowledge had no interest in what it meant. The Magi went to Bethlehem. They saw and they believed.
That brings us again to our primary question about the 1st Century Jew: Was there evidence from prophecy that would show that Jesus was the Messiah? In this first of many prophecies from the Old Testament, the record provides a clear answer. The same question still faces us today: Have you seen and have you believed?
In our final selection of Old Testament prophecy, we will look at someone who was not the Messiah, but was also predicted centuries before his birth. Just who was John the Baptist, and what was his role in God’s plan to reveal Himself to us in Jesus?
The lives of Jesus and John the Baptist share a number of similarities. First off, they were born near in time and in geography. They were related as Mary, Jesus’ mother, was related to Elizabeth, John’s mother. Both Jesus and John had unusual births—John coming from parents who were well past the age of childbearing and, of course, Mary becoming pregnant by an act of God. In addition, John’s coming birth and that of Jesus were both announced by the same angelic being—Gabriel. In each case, a parent composed a song of praise and thanksgiving at their birth. All of this information can be gleaned by reading chapter 1 of Luke’s Gospel.
We see direct contact between John the Baptist and the priestly class that earlier gave the information about Bethlehem to King Herod. John’s ministry was to be in preparation for the preaching of Jesus. We find this in Isaiah, 40:3-5, a passage that is mentioned in one way or another in all four Gospels. (I am including verse 5 as we will shortly see something special from that verse.)
3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
In preparation for the coming of Jesus, John the Baptist’s message was as clear as it was simple: Repentance is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. This was a tough message for a 1st Century Jew. After all, they were children of Abraham and thus were part of God’s covenant with Abraham. Why should they be required to repent?
Well, this was causing consternation in the Temple halls in Jerusalem. What’s going on here? There had to be an investigation. So, the Chief Priests sent out a group of priests and other clergy to check out John’s message. In John chapter 1, we read what happened:
15 John (the Baptist) testified concerning him (Jesus). He cried out, saying, “This is he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. 19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” 24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” 28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. 29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
John the Baptist, considered a prophet by the people of the 1st Century, left no uncertain message: I am not the Messiah, but here standing among us, one coming out of eternity, he is the Messiah. So while the priestly class might not want to accept prophecy from the Old Testament, they had a contemporary prophet who held him up in front of them. They could not evade his words! (Matthew 21:23-27).
The point is that they suspected John to be the Messiah in disguise and they wanted to smoke him out. “Declare yourself so we can give an answer to Jerusalem.” And John the Baptist did give them the answer—that, in fact, Jesus was the Lamb of God who was to take away the sin of the world. (Isaiah 53:4-6).
You don’t have to guess what the response to this news was in Jerusalem. In just a short time, they would be crying out to Pilate, the Roman Governor, “Crucify him! Crucify him! We will not have this man rule over us!” And they led Jesus out to Golgotha, Mt. Calvary, where he was attached to a wooden cross with spikes and dropped into a hole so that all could see the King of the Jews. In priestly robes, the religious class as well as many others rejected the evidence that was before them. Have you seen and have you believed?
The Evidence from 2000 Years
What we have today is the evidence from 2,000 years of experience and history, along with the support of many discoveries and ancient manuscripts. The Scriptures are the genuine articles. We may look over our shoulders and question the 1st Century Jew. But what about you and me?
If you will, it takes far more faith to deny the truth of the Bible than to believe the Scriptures as they are presented. The evidence can be ignored, but it can’t be undone. While the time of the 1st Century is long past along with their opportunity, we live today in the 21st Century with a fresh opportunity for faith.
To that end, let’s close this chapter by returning to Isaiah’s writing in chapter 40, verse 5: “And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” This is one of those verses that could have more than one application: Was it referring to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, or perhaps his resurrection, or to his crucifixion? So let’s take a closer look at this compelling statement
You may recall that Jesus had close friends living in Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem. Their names were Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Jesus has been a frequent guest in their home. Now, Lazarus was gravely ill and his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent an urgent message to Jesus, “Come quickly.” By the time Jesus arrived, however, Lazarus had died and was entombed. After a brief conversation with each sister, Jesus makes his way to where their brother’s body lay. We pick up the story in John 11:
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
Here, just a few days before Jesus’ trial and conviction in Jerusalem, Jesus says, “Martha, you are going to see the glory of the Lord—if you believe!” Moments later, they are standing in front of the tomb and Jesus calls out: “Lazarus, come out!” With that command, Lazarus staggers out of the cave, wrapped in grave clothes.
Now we understand that with the raising of Lazarus, God’s glory was seen. Yet, not everyone believed. The religious leaders in Jerusalem did not accept the evidence—they just added Lazarus to their “hit list.”(John 12:10). We recognize two responses: One is faith in God’s power and love, and the other is a hardness of heart that would not believe even though they had been witnesses to the events.
Looking ahead a few days, we come to that Friday we call Good. The Sanhedrin had met at night in a hastily called meeting with only a portion of the membership present. They cast their votes and their judgment upon Jesus: Guilty and worthy of crucifixion. They thought that if they could prevail on the Roman Government to give in to their wishes, they could do away with this man whom they saw as a threat to their standing. He would be gone and so would his followers.
From their perspective, crucifixion for Jesus was the end of the line for him. Jesus’ followers also considered his crucifixion a catastrophe. Being disposed of as a common criminal was not the way get a new religious enterprise off the ground. It was the worst possible outcome after three years of preaching and preparation.
But what was Jesus’ opinion about the coming events? Did he have any idea what was going to happen? And if he knew, how did he bolster his supporters? Well, let’s return again to Isaiah who wrote: “And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
How could Jesus twist the obvious disaster of crucifixion into something glorious? Yet, look at what he told his closest followers less than a week before that fateful event: (John 12) 23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Yes, those who voted in the Sanhedrin cast their votes for death. But Isaiah predicted and Jesus reminded his followers: What is coming is glorious! Eternal life will follow—not death! And that life is open to all who repent and accept God’s glory and authority into their lives.
So the question for our century remains: Have you seen the glory of the Lord and have you believed? We are here speaking about seeing and believing the record which has been there for us to examine for two thousand years. While the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were caught by surprise by the events of that last week of Jesus’ life, Jesus was not. He knew that glory, through resurrection, was coming.
Jesus opened the Scriptures of the Old Testament that pointed to the very events that so dismayed the two travelers. After listening, they could only say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
When they understood the truth of the events that so perturbed them, they returned to the crucifixion city, Jerusalem, to joyfully share with others Jesus’ teaching. “It’s not what we thought! It’s Good News! We have seen and we believe!” And have you seen and have you believed?
Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.
Psalm 22 was written about 1,000 years before Christ was born. The book of Isaiah was written between 700 and 600 years before Jesus was born.
Read through these two chapters and list the events you see in each that came to fulfillment during Jesus’ life, particularly the events of the week of his crucifixion and resurrection.