Saturday, January 17, 2009

Messianic Prophecy- Tips in Understanding

Messianic Prophecy- Tips in Interpretation: Adapted from Michael Brown’s Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Volume Three. Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books.2000, 189-194.

1. Messianic prophecies are not clearly identified as such: Whether or not certain passages are clearly Messianic depend upon what the preconceived idea of the reader. What do they believe the Messiah is supposed to do? If a traditional Jewish person says the Messiah cannot suffer and die, how would we expect them to interpret the Messianic passages? For example, if someone believes that the Messiah will be a king and bring peace to the earth, he will probably interpret Isaiah 11 as a Messianic prophecy but he will not interpret Isaiah 53 in a Messianic way because it does not fit his preconceived notion of what the Messiah will do.

2. The Messianic hope in Israel developed gradually: This explains why Messianic texts were not clearly identified as such: They were not initially understood as referring to the Messiah. The Hebrew word for Messiah (mashiach) which literally means ‘anointed one” almost never refers to the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible. Instead, it refers to the anointed king, like Saul or David, the high priest (Aaron), or even an “anointed” ruler such as Cyrus.

3. Many of the prophecies are fulfilled gradually: This applies to all type of prophecy, whether Messianic or not. An example of this is in Ezekiel. Ezekiel, living in the Babylon exile prophesized that his people would return from their captivity. Their fulfillment began in 538 B.C.E. when the first group of exiles returned to Judah; it has continued in the 20th century with the return of the Jewish people to the Land; and it will reach its fulfillment when Jesus comes back and gathers his scattered people from every corner of the globe. Over twenty-five hundred years and this prophecy is still being fulfilled! In Zechariah 9:9-10, Zechariah says, when Israel’s king comes, he will be righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. If you show a rabbi this passage, they will say Jesus does not fulfill it! How would we respond? The text is currently being fulfilled. It is the ongoing process of fully coming to pass: Jesus came as the prophet foretold, “righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey”; every day the number of individuals over whom he reigns as king continues to increase countless millions from every country; and in the future when he returns, he will completely establish his rule.

4. The prophets saw the Messiah coming on the immediate horizon in history: Have you ever looked on top of a mountain and looked across to another mountain peak? The mountains appear to be next to each other, even though there is a huge hole in between. The prophets saw the future through a telescope. Things far away in time appeared close. It is the same with biblical prophecy. The prophets did not realize that centuries would come and go between their initial prediction and its actual fulfillment. In fact, to the prophets, the expression “at the end of days” could have meant “right around the corner”! In Isaiah 9:1-7- it discusses the prediction that the yoke of the enemy, Assyria, would be broken by the son of David who was already born. And this son of David would have an everlasting kingdom of peace. When was Assyria crushed? 2,600 yrs ago. Who was born shortly before that time? Hezekiah. Did he fulfill the prophecy? No! But the prophet saw the coming of the future Davidic ruler as if it were about to happen in his very own day.

5. Read the Messianic prophecy in its overall context in Scripture: In relation to Isaiah 7:14, does Matthew take the Isaiah passage out of context? How can Matthew apply a sign given to King Ahaz in about 734 B.C to the birth of Jesus 700 years later? Consider the context of Isaiah Ch 7-11. Judah was being attacked by Israel and Aram. These nations wanted to replace Ahaz, who represented the house of David with their own man named Ben Tabeel. This would mean the end of Davidic rule in Judah. Yet when Ahaz would not ask God for a sign, God gave him his own: A child named Immanuel, meaning (God with us), would be born, and within a few years, before the child was very old, Judah’s enemies would be destroyed.

Who was this Immanuel? The child was to be born to the house of David in place of faithless Ahaz. The child would be a token of the fact that God was with his people. But is this Immanuel’s birth ever mentioned in the Book of Isaiah? No! In fact, the birth of Isaiah’s son Maher-Shalal- Hash- Baz in Isaiah 8:1-4 seems to take its place as a time setter (read Isaiah 7:14-16 and 8:3-4 before Maher-Shalal- Hash-Baz would be very old, Judah’s enemies would be destroyed-just what was said about Immanuel. What happened to Immanuel? Nothing is clearly said. But what is clearly said in Isaiah 9:6-7 and 11:1-16 is that there will come forth a rod from Jesse who will rule the nations in righteousness. This is Matthew’s context! He was reading Isaiah 7-11 in full! He quotes Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 9:1-2 in Matthew 4:15-16, and he alludes to Isaiah 11:1 in Mathew 2:23 (the Hebrew word for “Nazarene” resembles the Hebrew word for “Branch.” Was anyone born in Isaiah’s day that began to fulfill the Immanuel prophecy? We simply do not know. But of this we can be sure : Jesus the ideal King from the house of David, and clearly the subject of the Messianic texts in Isaiah 9- 11, is Immanuel- God with us- in the fullest sense of the word.

6. The Messiah was to be both Priest and King: The Messiah’s priestly work is seen in Psalm 110:1-4. Also, in the context of Zechariah 6- the crown placed on the head of the high priest named Joshua who is then referred to as the “Branch” a Messianic title. The Messiah has a dual role- as a priest, he would provide atonement and make intercession for the people. As a King, he would rule and reign! The Messiah is to be the ideal representative if his people: In ancient Israel, the king and his people were one. The people of Israel saw themselves represented in their head. How does this apply to Jesus? The nation of Israel and Jesus spent their early years in Egypt. Also, since the Messiah was the ideal representative of the people, he fulfills the words of the Psalms. Jesus is the ideal sufferer for the nation the representative King, the one greater than David.

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