At Christmas and all through the year, a focus on the Messianic prophecies of Jesus can bring great joy as Christians realize how He fulfilled prophecy in His birth, life, death, and resurrection. The Messianic prophecies are a starting point for understanding the Lord’s place in history and in the Christ-follower’s life.
Here are six truths to know about the Messianic prophecies of Jesus.
1. Messianic Prophecies Reveal the Person and Role of the Messiah
Biblical prophecies about the coming of the promised Messiah are called “Messianic prophecies” because they unveil something in the future about the Messiah that mere human wisdom could not foresee or guess. These predictions have enough detail to rule out guesswork, with a lapse of time between the prediction and its fulfillment. There are hundreds of prophecies that are considered Messianic. Some are direct, like the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Others are indirect, or they present a figure, such as the concept that the Messiah would relieve Israel’s struggles through his own life as He suffered and died (Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53). Jesus would live in perfect obedience to the Father and His Word so He could be the perfect Savior (Luke 2:52; Hebrews 5:8-9; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26; Hebrews 9:14). Like pieces of a grand puzzle, each piece of prophecy contributes to the whole to present a clearer picture of the Messiah and His role.
According to Deuteronomy 18:20-22, a true prophet must meet three tests. One of the tests is that the prophecies must come true exactly as predicted, with 100 percent accuracy. They are not meant to be partially fulfilled, although they may be fulfilled in stages—for example, the first and second coming of Christ. Many New Testament passages reference the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies. We see this in Jesus’ words: “that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matthew 26:56) and “everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). A good book for studying all the Messianic prophecies is All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible, compiled by Herbert Lockyer (Zondervan Publishing); but key prophecies are used in this article to illustrate the scope of these predictions.
2. Names and Titles in Messiah Prophecies Help Us Identify Him
Details are given in Messianic prophecies that describe the Messiah in growing clarity. The first Messianic prophecy is in Genesis 3:15—called the “protoevangelium” by Bible scholars. The serpent and the “seed” of Eve would have conflict, but the offspring of the woman would “crush” the serpent and destroy the schemes and work of Satan (Genesis 3:14-15; Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8). The prophecy continues with the “seed” of the woman through the line of Abraham and his descendants in the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:16; Galatians 4:4-5). One prophecy says all nations would be blessed through this descendant of Abraham (Genesis 12:3; Acts 3:24-26).
Many Messianic prophecies give the Messiah descriptive titles or names. The “Lion of Judah” (Genesis 49:9-10) would receive the kingly scepter through Abraham’s bloodline, through King David—but He would be “greater than David.” See the texts 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 132:11-18; Isaiah 11:10; Jeremiah 23:5. Jesus, God’s Son, was called the son of David and He will receive a never-ending kingdom (Matthew 1:1; Luke 1:31-33; Acts 15:15-16; Hebrews 1:5). This “Son of David” will rule in righteousness (Matthew 22:42; Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 32:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 9:9).
In Psalm 2:2-12, the first Messianic psalm, the Messiah is described as God’s “anointed” or chosen One. Daniel described the timing of when this anointed ruler would come (Daniel 9:25-26). Some people are surprised that God refers to His Son in the Old Testament (Proverbs 30:4)—“What is his name, and the name of his son?” This coming Messiah would be the “Star” of Judah, coming out of Jacob—described in Revelation 22:16 as the “bright Morning Star.” See Numbers 24:17; Matthew 2:2; Revelation 22:16. He is also the “Branch” that bears fruit (Isaiah 11:1), the “Servant” of the Lord (Isaiah 42:1), and a healer (Isaiah 35:5-6; Luke 7:20-23).
The predicted Messiah was also called the “Redeemer” (Job 19:25). The promise of Isaiah 53:4-5 was of a coming Savior. Old Testament saints understood a Redeemer would come, and this was verified in the announcement of the angels to Joseph concerning the birth of Jesus—He would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). The Old Testament Jews would not be saved by the law, but by faith (Gal. 3:8-9) in the coming Savior, just as New Testament believers are saved looking back to the Savior and trusting in His work on their behalf.
3. Fulfilled Messianic Prophecies Help Us Rely on Scripture
Biblical scholars say there are approximately 2,500 prophecies are in the Bible—with about 2,000 of them already fulfilled. But only a few hundred of these are Messianic prophecies. Fulfilled prophecy is evidence for the reliability of the Word of God. Hugh Ross, calculating the evidence for the reliability of the Bible, shared the probability of “chance fulfillment’ of many prophecies. Regarding the prophecy of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), Ross calculated the probability of chance fulfillment at 1 in 10 to the 5th power. The probability of chance fulfillment of the Messiah being betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13; Matthew 27:3-10) is 1 in 10 to the 11th power.
How many Old Testament prophecies did Jesus fulfill? Alfred Edersheim pointed to 456 Old Testament passages the rabbis considered Messianic before the time of Christ—Scriptures that referred either to the Messiah or the times in which He would arrive on the scene. Mathematicians have calculated the staggering odds of anyone fulfilling the number of prophecies regarding the Messiah. The odds of one person fulfilling eight prophecies is one in a 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (10 to the 18th power). The odds of one person fulfilling 48 prophecies is one chance in ten to the 157th power. And of fulfilling 300+ prophecies? Edersheim exclaimed, “only Jesus!”
God gave us the Scriptures to testify about Himself and His Son (1 John 5:9-11). Studying the Messianic prophecies can build our faith and help us rely on Scripture for daily living.
4. We Must Be Careful When Using Messianic Prophecies
Because understanding some prophecies can be difficult, context and comparison are important. Context in Scripture passages can provide details or clues for greater understanding. For example, “anointed one,” meaning “chosen one” in the Old Testament, can refer to “his anointed”—the Messiah, as in Isaiah 45:1 and 1 Samuel 24:10. But Cyrus of Persia and King Saul were also chosen by God for His special purposes and the word “anointed” was used—but they were not the Messiah. Sometimes a title can have two meanings. David called himself God’s servant and he was anointed (1 Samuel 16:13); but in Psalm 132:10, his use of “anointed one” can be applied to Jesus in a messianic way as easily as to David. In fact, verses 11-18 are descriptive of the “anointed one” who would come.
Comparison is another tool for understanding. To verify fulfilled prophecies, Scripture must be compared with Scripture. Some Old Testament prophecies are identified by writers in the New Testament. Here are five examples: (1) Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-23 about the virgin birth; (2) Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15 about Jesus coming out of Egypt; (3) Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 21:1-5 about Jesus coming on a foal of a donkey: (4) Psalm 34:20; John 19:31-32, 26 about Jesus’ bones not being broken; and (5) Zechariah 12:10; John 19:31-37 about Jesus being “pierced.” Jesus also referenced some Messianic prophecies and applied their predictions to Himself: (Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:21; Zechariah 13:7 in Matthew 26:31; and Isaiah 53:12 in Luke 22:37. Some passages refer to the passion of Christ, and they are Messianic—for example, Psalm 22:1 with Matthew 27:46. Some scriptures predict details of the crucifixion (Psalm 22:7, 14, 16, 18 which were fulfilled in the New Testament. See Matthew 27:38-44; John 19:38; Luke 23:34.
There are also themes in Scriptures that have messianic significance, such as the Old Testament “types.” One such type is the story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18). God told Abraham He would provide a sacrifice in place of Isaac (Gen. 22:12-13). This foreshadowed Jesus, the Lamb of God, our sacrifice for sin (John 1:29, 36).
Other Scriptures with types of signs of messianic significance include items in the Tabernacle, the story of Joseph’s rejection and exaltation, the story of Jonah as a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 11:29-30), and Boaz acting as the “kinsman redeemer” for brokenhearted, desperate Ruth (Ruth 4:1-11).
5. The Most Well-known Messianic Prophecies Point to the Gospel
In the Old Testament, most Jewish people did not understand the full meaning of Messianic prophecies, and this confusion continued into the early New Testament. After Jesus was crucified, His followers fell into despair—their hopes dashed for a Messiah who would unshackle them from Rome and bring Israel to glory; but after His resurrection, Jesus explained “what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” to help His saddened followers understand why He came (Luke 24:25-27).
Many of the well-known and best-loved Messianic prophecies point to the gospel message. The Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22-23; Luke 1:31-35)—the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20; Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 12:17) overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. The Messiah would be born in the city of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1-6; John 7:40-43). Before His entrance into ministry, He would be preceded by a messenger (Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 3:1; Matthew 3:1-3; Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:1-3; Luke 1:76; Luke 3:1-6; John 1:22-23) and acclaimed (Psalm 118:25-29; Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9-10; Luke 13:34-35; Luke 19:38; John 12:13) as the One “who comes in the name of the Lord.” The Messiah would be the rejected “cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22-24; Mark 12:10-11; Acts 4:9-12; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6-8) and betrayed (Zechariah 11:12-13; Matthew 26:14-15; Matthew 27:9-10) for 30 pieces of silver. Though forsaken and pierced (Psalm 22; Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 27:35-46; Mark 15:34; Hebrews 2:11-12; Revelation 1:7), He would be “lifted up” in His death (Numbers 21:6-9; John 3:14-18; John 12:32).
As the Passover lamb (Exodus 12; John 1:29-36; John 19:33-36; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8; 1 Peter 1:19), the Messiah would be the righteous “suffering servant.” He would bear sinners’ infirmities and forgive sins. The gospel story does not end with the Messiah’s crucifixion. He would not remain dead but would be resurrected in power (Psalm 16:8-11; Isaiah 53:10-12; Acts 13:35-37; Hebrews 9:28; Luke 9:22).
6. At Christmas, the Messianic Prophecies Bring Peace and Joy
Jesus’ Messiahship is woven throughout the Scriptures. He told two disciples, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). Jesus wants us to understand that the Law, prophets, and sacred writings of Scripture all contain Messianic prophecies—and He will fulfill them all. There was a long waiting period from Genesis 3:15 to the birth of Christ. For 400 years between the Old and New Testaments, God did not speak to the Jewish people. Blinded to truth, many forgot about the Messianic prophecies.
But at the birth of Jesus, breaking centuries of silence, God declared His Son would be called “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:21-23) His presence brings peace. The prophecy of Isaiah 9:6-7 is one of the most quoted during Christmas-time; but just a few verses earlier, is another less-known prophecy: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). In cultural and spiritual darkness, this message of light is desperately needed. This is one of the joyous messages of Christmas—a light has dawned, Jesus, the Light of the world (John 8:12).
The Christmas Messianic prophecies—details concerning the Savior’s birth—remind us that the God who loves us delivers on His promises. If Jesus is not the Messiah, the true meaning of Christmas is lost to us. But the Father sent the Son to be the savior of the world (1 John 4:14)—not to condemn the world, but to save it—to give eternal life to all who will place their faith in the Son (John 3:16-17).
Reasons.org, ‘Fulfilled Prophecy: Evidence for the Reliability of the Bible’
Wolfmueller.co, ‘456 Old Testament Passages considered Messianic by the Rabbis’
1.CBN.com, ‘Biblical Prophecies Fulfilled by Jesus’
TheGospelCoalition.org, ‘What Does the Tabernacle Symbolize?’
JewsforJesus.org, ‘A Comparison of Joseph and Jesus’
Ligonier.org, ‘Christmas: Prophecy and Fulfillment’
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Victoria1988
Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, publishes Upgrade with Dawn, and writes for Crosswalk.com and Christianity.com. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with Pacesetter Global Outreach.