One of the clearest and most compelling statements made by Jesus was that He did not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them. [Mt. 5:17-20] This statement should have perked the listeners’ ears and made them look for how He could fulfill prophecy. We know now that Jesus fulfilled hundreds of statements looking forward to Messiah. As we read through the New Testament, a number of these fulfillments are explicitly marked for us. Jesus himself stated on many occasions that He was doing something or saying something or enduring something so that prophecy would be fulfilled. He was spoon-feeding his listeners to recognize who He is. Here we will take a look at several of these prophetic fulfillments.
Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS. With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.”
A scene depicted in a number of films, the people on occasion were presented with the option of releasing one prisoner and sending the other to his punishment. To one side of Pilate was Barabbas, who was a murderer. To the other side of Pilate was Jesus, who was an innocent man. Not only was He innocent, but He was perfect. This was someone who was not guilty of the crimes charged against him or any crime or any sin ever. He was the spotless lamb. Jesus was God in the flesh among man, and his reception was like that of a common criminal. Jesus came to bring life, and He was treated worse than one whose aim was to cause death. After the people decided that Barabbas should be freed, Jesus was led to that hill where He would be hanged with two men who actually deserved to be there. One of them would mock him, but the other would recognize the travesty of justice and failure of humanity that put Jesus on that cross.
When I think about the prophecies which told the story of Messiah to come, I wonder what the children of Israel thought when they came across this one. They were waiting for their Savior to deliver them, but they were shown that He would be treated harshly and wrongly. I wonder whether any of them thought that this certainly could not happen because it would be unjust. I also wonder whether any of God’s chosen people thought that they would be the ones to treat Messiah this way. Perhaps this prophecy was not clear to them, or perhaps they thought only those who did not know better would behave like this. It is a wonder that a people could wait for thousands of years for their Savior to come and miss the signs. Of course, this seems like a prophecy easily overlooked considering the many which are much more obvious.
So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
There certainly is meaning behind the passage Jesus elected to read on this day before those in attendance at the synagogue. He could have read any number of prophecies concerning himself, but He chose one that spoke of God’s grace and generosity. This anointing that was on him was not about browbeating the people into submission or forcing them to adhere to rules. Jesus was not there to control the way human rulers might want to control. This was not about compelling any belief or behavior. The language which describes this anointing is all about grace. It speaks of God simply giving to the people but does not speak of any requirement from them. The good news is something given freely. The healing of the brokenhearted and liberation of those captive are gifts. The opening of blind eyes and the relief of the oppressed are gifts.
Jesus did not present this anointing as something to lord over God’s people. He presented it as something the Father had given for them. The anointing on Christ was for the benefit of God’s children, for their good. I gather from their response to his words that they could discern that anointing because it raised a question, but the words they proclaimed were not words of thanksgiving or praise. They did not show relief at Messiah appearing. Instead, their words showed doubt. The man speaking to them with this evident anointing was someone they had known for decades. He was the son of a carpenter they had known for probably even longer. What I see here is the conflict between the natural and the spiritual. They might have felt God’s anointing on that man in that place, but they had to get past who they knew that man to be. For those hearing and seeing Jesus in that place, they would have to decide whether to believe Messiah could appear as one like them.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Some of the prophecies about Messiah were not very clear and required discernment to understand. For those of us who have the luxury of being able to read the scriptures in their organized entirety, things are clear to us now. This passage, for example, spells it out completely. We do not need to interpret anything. This massacre initiated by King Herod would fulfill a prophecy he might never have heard, but the only reason behind this atrocity was that King Herod knew and believed enough prophecy about Messiah to be troubled. Yes, a king with Hellenistic roots whose Jewishness was a subject of controversy, was wise enough to heed the prophecy and the signs about this new coming king. One whose faith was markedly different from those who followed only Judaism believed enough to be scared and to react so harshly. Yet, it is not really the fear of King Herod in this scene that is so unnerving. It is the fact that all Jerusalem was troubled at the prospect of the King of the Jews being born. [v. 3]
Different reasons have been suggested for why Jerusalem as a whole would have been troubled by the arrival of Messiah. One theory is that sin and lawlessness had reached a level which caused Israel to fear Messiah as they were not prepared in holiness for him. This is like the disobedient child whose father gets home just in time to catch him in the act. Another theory is that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were feigning being troubled just to be aligned with King Herod. Whatever the case, we would expect the response of Jerusalem’s Jewish inhabitants to be one of jubilation. If they really believed the prophecies about Messiah, and they really believed that these wise men were there because their King had been born, this should have been a good thing for them. Instead, the arrival of God’s greatest gift to his creation brought turmoil and fear. Perhaps this speaks less about whether Israel could read the prophetic signs pointing to Jesus and more about whether their hearts really desired his arrival.
When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence. Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”
We read these bible stories, and we are given these detailed accounts of miraculous things, and I wonder whether we take the time to really imagine what the scene would have been like. These men are laying their eyes upon one who they know has died. Not only has He died, but his body is missing. The tomb where He once lay is empty. Jesus had spoken some cryptic messages to them while He was alive in the flesh, and they predicted that He would die and rise again. Then, He did just that, and seeing their Lord appear after his death still did not drive it home for them. What would it have been like to be present at this scene, where a resurrected Jesus spoke and ate before them? What would it have been like for that Jesus to explain right then and there how He had fulfilled prophecy? I see this as an act of grace that Jesus understood how they still might doubt and would need more encouragement and confirmation before this next great event could occur.
Any disillusionment that the disciples might have felt at the death and subsequent disappearance of Jesus should have turned to encouragement here. This was what they would have needed to fire them up for living a life without their Lord physically present as they were used to. In this moment, Jesus gave them the discernment to understand his prophetic fulfillment and also gave them instructions concerning what was to come. Those words themselves are prophetic in nature. He sent them to wait to receive power from the Father. In their excitement at seeing Jesus again, and after He had opened their understanding, they were sent simply to wait. That time of waiting could have been frustrating or deflating after this awesome encounter. Some of them could have thought that they really wanted to do something and not just wait for the next thing to come. However, I think that the revelation they received from Jesus here would have given them confidence that the next thing to come would be well worth the wait.
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’”
The words of Jesus here bring our message around full circle. The theme of the innocent and perfect lamb led to the slaughter is critical to our faith. The central reason it is critical to our faith is that only this unblemished sacrifice could have saved us. Without it, we would have no hope for life. There is another reason why the innocence of Christ should really matter to us. Just as it was when He was crucified, and just as it was when He was simply ridiculed, this man was hated without cause. As his followers, we cannot expect to be treated any better by the world. This should be evident in our lives now unless we surround ourselves only with other Christians. While some of those who are in the world might like us or tolerate us or even say they love us, many others will have no room for us because of our Lord. The message of salvation we will try to bring them will sound only like a message of condemnation and judgment.
Not one person had a justifiable reason for responding to Jesus in any unloving way. We can read the reasons given for his arrest and crucifixion, but we know that those are not true. Jesus came to set people free, but they sought to confine his message. He came to heal those who were sick and dying, and they sought to break and kill him. He brought the world love, and they responded with hatred. They wanted to take his life, and we can be glad that He first decided to surrender it himself. He was like a lamb led to the slaughter, but He led himself there. Only God could take an act of pure hatred and bring from it the purest form of love. He knew that He would come to bring us freedom, and that so many of his own people would decide to remain slaves to sin and death, yet He still made the offer. Our hope now is that those who know the prophecies today would see that they point to Jesus Christ.
When we look at the story of God’s people Israel, one thing is abundantly clear. Their corporate personal history, their prophecies, and their law serve to legitimize a God who would walk among mankind. The Lord did not just appear without warning. He did not show up unexpectedly and require faith. By his grace, He laid out a roadmap for anyone seeking him to find him. A God who has absolutely nothing to prove gives us everything we need to prove that He is who He is. In doing so, He is neither spoiling us nor catering to our unbelief. He is a God who gives us every opportunity to choose him and to love him. Every sign which points us to Messiah is about giving us the freedom to choose correctly. The majesty of the heavens and the earth and the stars and the oceans and the mountains and the streams is enough to prove who He is. In his grace, He gives us so much more than that, and I think it is because He desires to lose not one.