A few Sundays ago, the sermon passage was Luke 19:28-40, in which Jesus fulfills the expectations of how the Messiah would enter Jerusalem to begin his kingdom rule. Jesus’ life is full of these moments where the gospel writers, especially Matthew, highlight Jesus’ fulfillment of the coming Messiah.
However, if you have ever investigated the prophecies found in the New Testament, you might end up scratching your head. The Old Testament verses cited are not always as “clear cut” as we would expect. As 21st century Canadian’s, we assume prophecy should be as clear as, "tomorrow it will rain" … and it rains. But in Hebrew literature and tradition it is not quite so cut and dry. I would like to share a few of the prophesies that Jesus fulfills and outline the different ways Jesus can and does fulfill the expectations of the Old Testament.
This type of prophecy is the easiest for us to understand. Like the example above of predicting the weather, these prophecies point exclusively to Jesus. Matthew 2:5 quotes Micah 5:2,
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”
In this passage, God is promising a king from Bethlehem. Not King David, who is already dead, but another shepherd king, an ancient king, the Messiah himself. This passage is all about Jesus. The prophet Micah is speaking to the kings and kingdoms of Israel and Judah and pointing them to a day when their thrones would be ruled by a king of God’s choosing. Jesus is the Shepherd King God sent. Other examples of this type of fulfillment include Zechariah 9:9 referring to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and Isaiah 53 which predicts the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for us.
Jesus also fulfills prophecy by being a type or escalation of a previous promise or circumstance. Let me explain using Matthew 2:15.
In this section, Matthew is describing the visit of the wise men and Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous rampage. In sending the family to Egypt, Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1,
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”
In its original context, the prophet Hosea is reflecting on the redemption God worked for Israel, who are the children of God, generations earlier when he saved them from slavery in Egypt (read the story in the book of Exodus). The exodus is used often in the Bible to represent all of God’s saving work. Hosea’s words are God lamenting Israel’s stubborn hearts in rejecting him even though he has saved them over and over again. It has nothing to do with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus going to Egypt. Hosea was written over 750 years before Jesus was born and was more than 700 years after the exodus.
At first glance, it seems that Matthew is taking this passage out of context. However, we must always submit ourselves to God’s Word, not submit God’s Word to our way of thinking. Though Hosea is not speaking about Jesus’ family’s flight to Egypt directly, God is intending that we see a pattern that is repeated in both the exodus and the life of Jesus. In sending Jesus to Egypt and bringing him out, God is retelling the story of the exodus. In Egypt, Israel was enslaved to the godless Pharaoh. In the life of Jesus, God’s people are slaves to the occupying power of Rome. Israel is also enslaved to their blindness and sin. God redeemed His people out of slavery by working wonders against the Egyptians and in Christ, he is working wonders once again to pay the price for our sins before a Holy God. Jesus is living out another exodus for God’s people.
Another example of this is Matthew 1:23 quoting Isaiah 7:14,
“Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means God with us).”
When the above verse is spoken to King Ahaz, the king is looking for rescue from a foreign enemy. Israel needs a strong king to lead them in a crisis. Isaiah promises that the “young woman”, which is the same word translated virgin in the passage, will conceive and will bear a son who will lead God’s people out from the immediate threat they are in. Many scholars agree that this son is born to Isaiah himself in chapter 8:3. Matthew then sees the events of Jesus' birth and sees Jesus fulfilling the same sort of mission. But Matthew sees Jesus as an ultimate version of the promised child. Rather than a young woman becoming pregnant the natural way, an actual virgin has conceived. Rather than the name of the child being symbolic so the people will be reminded of God’s presence with them, this child, Jesus, is God himself become flesh to solve the problem of sin.
The big idea for typological fulfillment is there is an immediate context in which the prophecy makes sense, but when we look at the life of Jesus, the prophecy is repeated and often escalated. These types of prophecies show that God is working salvation yet again using similar means so that his people will not miss it.
“Jesus is Greater” Fulfillment
This type of fulfillment is similar to the typological fulfillment above, but rather than escalating the imagery of the previous history, Jesus shows up as the completion of the promises which others have failed to achieve fully.
The first promise of the Bible is one of these. Genesis 3:15,
“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.”
In the most tragic moment in history, as God deals out judgement for the sin of the man and the woman, God makes a promise to redeem His people through the woman’s offspring. The entire Bible from Genesis 3:15 onward is looking for the son who will crush the serpent’s head. When Abel is born and his sacrifice is accepted by God, readers should be hopeful. But then as Cain lands the fatal blow, we are disappointed. Noah is given a new creation to have dominion of and sin still reigns. Abraham is promised a son who will bless the world, but his kids are a mess. David is promised a son of his will rule forever, but within two generations the nation is split and eventually the people are conquered by foreign powers. This disappointment repeats over and over again until Matthew chapter 1. Jesus is not the first son of promise (Isaac for example in Genesis 15:4), but he is the last. He is the promised son we have been waiting for.
Jesus also uses this type of fulfillment to talk about himself. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.”
This is the pattern Jesus sets up as one of his purposes in coming to earth to live as a man, he came to fulfill what we could not do for ourselves.
In Matthew chapter 12, Jesus calls himself greater than the temple (12:6), greater than Jonah (12:41), and greater than Solomon (12:42). Jesus is calling himself the greater priest, prophet, and king. In Jesus, we have the ultimate and final expression of these three Old Testament offices. No longer will we have to wait for a word from God because we have the Word made flesh. No longer will we have to make sacrifices and depend on the service of appointed priests for our justification because Jesus is the great High Priest and the perfect Lamb of God. Never again will we have to put our hope in mortal rulers who fail us and leave their kingdoms to sons who squander their responsibility, because we have the perfect Righteous King who is ruling and reigning in righteousness forever. Jesus is the perfect and ultimate expression of these biblical promises and offices. We have no more need for prophets, priests, kings, or promised children. We have Jesus.
The final way I will discuss in which Jesus fulfills biblical prophecy, is in narrative fulfillment. This type of prophecy is not based on quotes from the Old Testament but rather on literary tools and symbols used to allude to Jesus as the fulfillment of the story.
Much like the example of God calling Jesus and his family out of Egypt in point two, these fulfillments are repetitions of former patterns from the biblical story. However, they don’t normally have a quoted Old Testament text next to them to cue us as readers. We have to do the work to see them ourselves. For some of you, this might feel a little too much like grade 12 English class but stick with me:
- Matthew 4:3-4, Jesus is tempted by the devil to eat and he resists temptation unlike Eve in the Garden of Eden.
- Matthew 10:1-4, Jesus calls 12 disciples to usher in his new kingdom, just like God granted Jacob 12 sons to build the first nation of Israel.
- Luke 7:11-17, Jesus raises a widow’s son from the dead just like Elijah the prophet.
- Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus feeds God’s people with bread from heaven just like God fed the people of Israel in the wilderness with manna.
- Matthew 26:15, Judas agrees to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, very similar to the way Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery for 20 pieces of silver, and both betrayals result in the salvation of God’s people.
- Matthew 26:36-46, Jesus is again tempted in a garden to abandon the task ahead of him, but he resists the lure unlike Adam and Eve in Eden.
- Matthew 26:57-27:26, Jesus is unjustly tried and suffers even though he is innocent. Both Joseph’s false conviction under Potiphar and Job’s testing at the hands of the devil point to the only truly innocent one.
- John 19:41, Jesus is buried and resurrected in a garden just like Adam was given life from the dirt of the ground in a garden. Jesus’ resurrection is a new creation and a new hope for the world.
This is not an exhaustive list of the prophecies that Jesus fulfills nor does every prophecy fit into each category cleanly. These are not even all the categories you could use to define the ways the New Testament uses the Old Testament. The point I want to show is that the life of Jesus is not a band-aid fix for the mess of a broken world. It was the design and intention of the Father to send His Son Jesus to make all things right and proclaim his glory. Jesus fulfills the plans of God in many different ways and as we read and re-read God’s word. We should not be so quick to overlook or discount how God clearly proclaims that Jesus is the fulfillment and culmination of all His purposes from the beginning of time and forevermore.