EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and acclaimed biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
[Parts of the entry below are abbreviated from THE MYSTERY OF JESUS (3-VOLUME SET) mentioned above].
The prophetic literature of the Bible is broken into two main categories: “Major Prophets” and “Minor Prophets.” The Major Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel, called “major” only for their length (and though Lamentations is shorter, it’s grouped with Jeremiah, as he is seen as the author in tradition). The shorter books are designated as “minor”: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Together, this represents seventeen books, all of which are equally important to the Word of God.
In a standard Bible-study book, these men would likely be handled individually, or at least grouped together by subject a few at a time, and there would be a heavy focus on Israel’s mistakes as they repeatedly flourished or deteriorated based on whether or not they listened to God’s words as delivered through these servants. But in a work like this one, in which the focus always leads to how Jesus is viewed in Scripture—and with the pattern of Israel’s disobedience and the consequences of it having been well established already—we won’t spend the additional pages needed to do that topic justice.
Just as the Law books and the Wisdom books were grouped together, the Prophets, both Major and Minor, will also be a single category as, in this work, all point to the same Person.
That raises an issue regarding the word “prophet” in the Bible. Most people, when they hear this term, think “fortuneteller for God” is an accurate definition of a prophet. Therefore, it should be noted early on that, although the prophets did sometimes foretell of a future event that had precise fulfillment (both in their times and later on), there was much more than that involved with being a prophet. Like judges, prophets were directly chosen by God, and their children didn’t inherit their position when the prophets passed away. Unlike kings, who were lavished in wealth and surrounded by servants, prophets were usually regular Joes, just people who were appointed to this holy position after having a radical, personal encounter with Yahweh. There were no crystal balls or tarot cards—such practices were forbidden—but the messages from God to His people came directly from Him and were reiterated through the mouths of prophets. Instead of consulting the muses or some other such pagan sorcery, the prophets sought God’s voice through prayer and supplication—and many times He answered them directly. Not every message was a prediction. In fact, only one-third of the material derived from the prophets is predictive. Many times, God simply wanted to give His people a message via the prophets that would offer a new perspective on something happening in the moment.
Concerning Christ, obviously—because, of course, the Prophets are Old Testament books—everything said of Him spoke of future events, as the Messiah was a distant hope in their day. Today, the arrival, life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Messiah is in the past. As such, the words of the Old Testament prophets about the Messiah are intrinsically linked to their New Testament fulfillments, causing us to question whether their messianic testimonies should: 1) be saved until our study on the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation to look at the predictions and fulfillments at the same time; or 2) be covered in both our sections on the Old and the New Testaments, which naturally would lead to us address the same material twice. In the end, we opted for a third idea, in which we’ll look at the words of the prophets at the end of the Old Testament study and then we’ll examine their fulfillments in the New Testament study. Though this plan does mean that this part of the book will read far differently than the previous discussions and might leave readers in suspense about some of the prophecies’ fulfillments, that is quite appropriate, as that’s precisely how the Jews felt about their Someday Messiah. In fact, though there is much material in the academic world regarding the four hundred years of “silence” from God between the writings of the last book in the Old Testament and the first book of the New Testament (referred to as the “Intertestamental Period”), Scripture doesn’t address the developments of the nation of Israel at this time. The Jews largely didn’t know how their Messiah would appear (as evident in the assumptions of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes), and we’d like to convey similar circumstance here. We’d like reader to “feel” instead of simply “read” this portion of our study. (This is also why the grammatical tense here will be in the present from Isaiah forward to the Gospels, as it will help transports readers to the time of the prophets.
That said, any of the prophets can be seen as a type of Christ, in that they each sacrificed their own happiness and societal status in trade for suffering and being brought low, like servants, to obey God’s directives during frightening shifts in Israel’s history. Of all the studies that show how Jesus is present in the Word, the overwhelming majority focuses on the books of the prophets and Christ’s fulfillment of what the prophets said. Therefore, to keep our book from parroting exhaustive information already available—and because this three-book work is already longer than those we typically release at Defender Publishing and SkyWatch Television—we’ll take a truncated and condensed look at the Prophets (but we promise cliff-hangers will be resolved later in our reflections on Jesus in the books of the New Testament, which will also feature some verses not mentioned here).
This leads us to a final note before we launch: Many of the prophets’ words, and some of their visions, are incredibly difficult to interpret. For instance, Ezekiel’s visions involving wheels (Ezekiel 1) are highly debated and can sometimes lead to some odd theology (including some who believe the wheels were extraterrestrial flying saucers—an interpretation that we won’t endorse or refute here). We believe the vast majority of readers will be relieved by our approach to stay out of these deep theological trenches to stick to what is most relevant to our study of Israel’s Someday Messiah.
Let’s begin with the first of the Major Prophets, Isaiah. From there, we’ll examine the books in their canonical order, not in the order of chronological history.
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Isaiah’s level of education and connections to high-ranking public officials and royalty shows he is positioned for success in society, but God has other plans. When the Northern Kingdom (that retained the name “Israel”) faces the Assyrian Exile, Isaiah has many reasons to fear the same fate for the Southern Kingdom (Judah) if the people don’t submit to God’s authority. A central theme of this lengthy book covers the concepts of God’s people falling into the hands of a pagan government if they aren’t obedient to His Law, even if choosing to obey drives them to give up the things they value. To avoid being exiled in the same nature as the Northern Kingdom, people of Judah have to humble themselves and show they’re willing to be servants of Yahweh.
“Servants” is a key word here…and it appears that nobody is going to rise to the challenge. Giving up every grand thing in his earthly life, Isaiah stands as a righteous example of one who knows Yahweh’s Kingdom is eternal, requiring a sacrifice of his temporal life in the interest of the afterlife. Someday, Isaiah prophesies, there will be an even greater example than he. That Person, as He is depicted by Isaiah, will be the Servant to outperform all servants…and He is going to experience extreme suffering.
The passage in Isaiah 52:13–53:12 speaks of how Israel’s Suffering Servant will be incredibly unpopular, “despised and rejected of men” (also see 49:5–12). He will be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” “wounded for our transgressions, [and] bruised for our iniquities.” Yet, He will also be “exalted and extolled, and be very high” in a way the people can’t understand because He will be “numbered with the transgressors.” In this bizarre picture of One who will be hated and grouped with the criminals of His day is another layer of meaning hidden behind the canvas: This One’s work will flip the situation around unexpectedly when He bears “the sin of many” in His obedience, making Him worthy to make “intercession for the transgressors.”
This is a concept the Israelites find hard to comprehend. (Remember, they largely hold to the Deuteronomic retributional justice pattern as a promise, not as a standard or principle.) How is such a thing possible? Who would be despised and exalted on high?
Isaiah explains precisely who this Man will be, and how He can be recognized: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14). The Hebrew Immanuel is a name meaning “God with us,” and it was to be taken literally. Someday God will be the incarnate Servant, born through a virgin, walking and talking “with us” humans upon the earth. At His birth, camels will carry important men who will “bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord” (60:6). His arrival will thoroughly change the way government operates:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called “Wonderful,” “Counsellor,” “The mighty God,” “The everlasting Father,” “The Prince of Peace.” Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:6–7)
Those who follow this Man’s guidance, God says through Isaiah, will be given “a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.” This will apply both to Jews and Gentiles, or “sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord” (56:1–8). Every call for freedom of oppression and captivity Israel has ever cried out about to the Father will be answered and delivered in this Man (58:6–14). This Servant, a Go’el (59:20) who redeems Israel even without money (52:3), will come in God’s timing, and the sole response of Israel is to be faithful in waiting until the Redeemer comes for the meek, broken-hearted captives (61:1).
Almost from the opening of his book, Isaiah tells of a coming Kingdom that will be established under this Redeemer, a future “concerning Judah and Jerusalem…in the last days.” Isaiah says “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.” This end-times Ruler will “judge among the nations,” and there will be an end to all war (2:1–5). His ministry as King will include victory over His enemies, His reign will be one of mercy and justice (63:1–14). This “Branch” of the Father will be like a refuge amidst all other evils in that day, and “the shining of a flaming fire by night” will be upon every dwelling place of Mt. Zion (4:1–6). This Branch will also stem from Jesse (the father of King David), His Kingdom will be one of peace (11:1–9), and He will welcome the Gentiles, whose rest will be glorious and who will see a light in Him (11:10–16; 42:6). This tried-and-true Cornerstone will certainly appear as promised, God says through Isaiah, as the foretold events are a certainty (28:16). He will be a Servant in whom God’s soul delights, and upon whom God has placed His Spirit (42:1).
Over and over, Isaiah acknowledges that, though many will stray before the establishment of the final Kingdom, a remnant who once and for all abandons idolatry will always be saved (6:13; 10:20–23; 17:6–8; 24:13–15; 65:8–10).
This is a lot for Israel to digest…yet Isaiah isn’t quite finished.
In chapter 6, the prophet has a vision:
I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
Then said I, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:1b–5)
The King, this Lord of Hosts from Isaiah’s vision, appears in human form… Can it be that Isaiah has had a vision of the Immanuel?… Hmmm.
Regardless of Isaiah’s repeated warnings, the moral depravity of God’s people rears its ugly head again, and the Jews fall into the hands of the Babylonians, who destroy the holy city of Jerusalem. As is the pattern in the Old Testament writings, God never abandons His nation. During this time, the prophet Jeremiah also stands to tell of a new relationship between God and man that will overcome all the disappointments of Israel’s history. This New Covenant, Jeremiah prophesies, will be unlike anything God’s people have ever seen. The Law will no longer be a set of rules to be followed! Instead, somehow, the standards for living in obedience to God will become an inward matter. The Levitical priesthood and animal sacrifices will be replaced with something superior (Jeremiah 33:17–18). “‘But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days,’ saith the Lord, ‘I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people’” (31:33).
Thus, in order to show Israel what they have to look forward to in their Deliverer, Jeremiah warns the people of their sin in similar, inner-person terms. Their sin is so great that it is “written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond…graven upon the table of their heart, and…altars” (17:1). Through Jeremiah, the Lord speaks of the “wine cup of this fury at my hand,” which is the result of such sin that “all that are in the utmost corners” of the earth are forced to drink (25:15, 23).
But in the midst of the Deliverer’s coming, something terrible will come. Jeremiah looks toward this terrible moment, saying, “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel [Rachel] weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not” (31:15).
Will a Messiah really come from the lineage of the patriarchs to stand as the Founder of this new inner work?
And what of this cup? Will He drink it, too? If so, why—and for whom?
Will He be seen as merely another leader, like a prophet, judge, or king? And will His work be carried out on earth or in the unseen dominion of the soul?
What did Jeremiah mean when he said this Man will be a “Branch,” a King from the line of David, who executes perfect judgment and righteousness and sees to the restoration of Judah and of Jerusalem (23:5; 33:15–16)? What excruciating event would occur that would cause such weeping around the time of the Deliverer’s birth? And who is “Rachel”?
Jeremiah’s cries continue in the book of Lamentations, after Jerusalem and the Temple have been demolished, prophesying of the time of tribulation that will follow. The Hebrews are dismantled and fragmented, and all their ways of life, including the cultural practices of their worship, have ceased. Jeremiah, in this poetic book, until its third chapter, acknowledges that the days of glory are over, and raises the question: What hope can the Jews cling to now? Despite the Jews’ willful and unremittingly reckless contributions to this dilemma, they are feeling as if God has disappeared in the wake of their land’s destruction, and their penalty is now “greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom” (Lamentations 4:6). Even the highest are being brought low as their enemies are raping “the women in Zion, and the [virgins from] the cities of Judah. Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders [are] not honoured” (5:11–12).
Lamentations captures well the anguish of a nation whose Leader is hard to see in the rising smoke of ruin. The happy laughter of men, women, and children whose burdens were once light now only echo in the wind as their land sits silent, abandoned in the aftermath of sundry seasons of iniquity: “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!” (1:1).
But God’s mercy and capability to restore a wicked people to glory never dies. Here, in the midst of the most unbelievable crises, is a comfort…a clearly supernatural comfort that can’t be explained by any source other than God in His weaving together a course of action for Israel’s future. “Therefore have I hope,” Jeremiah writes, “It is [because] of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness!” (3:21b–23). The people will continue to survive, and their sons and daughters will not perish and bring to extinction the holy race, as God’s plan is unfolding in spite of them. Though the people sit in captivity under the Babylonian government, some, like Jeremiah, know Yahweh will “have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies,” draw near to those who cry out for His help, and say, “Fear not!” as they anticipate the day He will “renew [their] days as of old” (3:32, 57; 5:21).
Until then, goodness can be found for those who “hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord…For the Lord will not cast off for ever” (3:26, 31).
Will laughter bubble up once again from the nation’s homes? Will the Jews will see the culmination of this salvation promise in the Branch of David?
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Of those King Nebuchadnezzar has taken captive to Babylon, one man, Ezekiel, also sees great hope. His colorful words are unlike any those of other biblical book in many ways. As a prophet, Ezekiel knows his responsibility is to relay Yahweh’s will and intent to His people, and this Ezekiel does quite graphically, often choosing to carry out public behavior as a means of shaking people up and getting their attention. In Ezekiel 4:1–8, he symbolizes the siege of Jerusalem by lying on his side, bound in rope for many days; in 5:1–4, he expresses the destruction of the holy city by cutting his hair and beard with a sharp sword; in 12:3–7, he embodies the baggage of the exiled by covering his face and digging through a wall with his bare hands, carrying the weight of his dig on bags across his shoulders in sight of all; in 12:18, he eats and drinks while trembling to represent the scarcity of food and water in this nation of violence. Such dramatizations likely stimulate a bit of gossip and the questioning of his sanity…but they no doubt communicate his intent better than words.
Ezekiel begins by noting that “in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” (1:1). In these visions, Ezekiel watches the horrific departure of God’s presence from the Temple and the holy city (8:3–4; 9:3; 10:4, 18–19; 11:22–23). As a prophet and one in touch with Yahweh, Ezekiel knows the absence of God isn’t only the absence of all things good, but also of life. Spiritually, Israel is dead, lying in the graves of the forgotten.
To deepen Ezekiel’s understanding and imprint upon him the magnitude of this gruesome truth, God brings Ezekiel to the massive grave, the Valley of Bones, saying, “these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost’” (37:11). The idols the Jews set up in the very Temple of God (chapter 8) are, to Yahweh, abominations that will incur nothing but than His wrath.
But something wonderful and peculiar happens. While still experiencing his vision, Ezekiel is told by God to “prophesy and say unto [the bones], ‘Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.… And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live’” (37:12, 14). Ezekiel foresees a day of restoration for the spiritual life of Israel. This resurrection of God creates hope in God’s mercy, speaking life to the dead, imparting freedom upon Israel even while the people are sleeping in the chains of captivity. In their darkest hour, the Author of Life shows His prophet that His presence will return in a new place where a glorious river flows to bring life and healing to whatever and whoever it touches—a place where trees produce the only sustenance God’s people will ever need, and the leaves of which are medicine (47:1–12).
God tells Ezekiel that these wonderful things will come on the day another, final, King David sits on the throne as a Shepherd over His people, ensuring that they live peacefully and are ever fed with good fruit (34:20–31; 37:24). The blessings of this Kingdom will be rich and plentiful, the stone hearts of God’s people will be traded for ones of flesh, and God will instill His Spirit within those who follow Him (36:25–38).
Ezekiel also sees something, or Someone, quite extraordinary:
And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.… This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face. (1:26, 28)
Who might this “man” upon the throne be referring to? Is this the same being as the one in Isaiah’s vision? Throughout Ezekiel’s story, God frequently refers to him as the “Son of Man.” Will this term someday come to mean something other than a regular man also?
Ezekiel says he will not see these prophesied events fulfilled in his day. But in the future, God’s people will find a new hope, he says. Will their dry bones be brought back to life? And will the water that flows from God in a new Temple and a new form that offers the final salvation and restoration have something to do with the promised Deliverer?
Meanwhile, Ezekiel isn’t the only prophet whose life is spent as a captive in Babylon.
Daniel is young when he is brought in to be a servant to the king, but his wisdom as a prophet of God is evident early on, when King Nebuchadnezzar feels haunted by a disturbing dream nobody else has the ability to interpret. The dream is of a tall and mighty image or statue with a head of gold, chest of silver, abdomen and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of a mixture of iron and clay (Daniel 2:31–33). Seemingly from out of nowhere, and without the use of human hands, a giant rock is cut from a mountain and flies into the image. It breaks into pieces that fall “like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors,” whereupon the wind carries the dust-like pieces away to places they will never be found, “and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (2:35).
Daniel explains that the silver, bronze, iron, and the mixture of iron and clay represent kingdoms that will rise after the time of Nebuchadnezzar. The head of gold indicates the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, which, by its place at the top, will fall the farthest to its dismal, shattered fate. Daniel clarifies that the massive rock cut from the mountain is a future Kingdom that will last forever and outperform all others: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (2:44).
Nebuchadnezzar is impressed by Daniel’s interpretation, and says that the One whom Daniel worships is “a God of gods, and a Lord of kings” (2:47).
Sadly, this newfound exaltation from the pagan king to Yahweh doesn’t last…
Daniel quickly grows in service to God, refusing a short time later to bow down in worship to the king’s golden statue. Though he is not personally caught in this defiance, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel’s close friends, are spotted standing after they have been instructed to bow. This act of insubordination will cost them their lives, the king decrees. King Nebuchadnezzar arrogantly taunts, “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (3:15). Their answer is, of course, Yahweh (3:16).
This provokes the king who, in a fit of rage, orders that the furnace be heated to seven times its usual temperature and orders his men to bind the three God-fearing Hebrews and throw them into the flames. They do just that, but as they approach the furnace, the emanating heat is so intense that it immediately incinerates the king’s servants. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego can’t possibly survive, regardless of whatever “gods” they serve, the king assumes. But, as the three friends stand amidst the flames, a fourth Figure can suddenly be seen—one that the king’s counselor says is “like a son of the gods” (3:25; ESV).
Shocked, King Nebuchadnezzar calls the Hebrew men out of the furnace. When they appear before him, not a single hair on their heads is singed. Having seen with his own two eyes the power of the Hebrew God for a second time, Nebuchadnezzar says, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God” (3:28). This proves God’s authority to be more powerful than any other god of the land. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are promoted in the provinces of Babylon.
Daniel’s words of praise to his God for the mysteries He reveals will reverberate throughout the history of Israel: “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his…he removeth kings, and setteth up kings…[and] He revealeth the deep and secret things” (2:20–22).
Yet, it is not over. After the reign of Nebuchadnezzar ceases, Daniel once again refuses to stop worshipping his God, and he is thrown by King Darius into a lions’ den where he is sure to be devoured. Yet the Lord is with Daniel again; He supernaturally shuts the mouths of the ferocious beasts until the next morning, when the hungry lions are fed the conspirators who accused Daniel. King Darius’ reaction to this turn of events, words about an eternal Kingdom, mirrors that of Nebuchadnezzar’s, as he says that Daniel’s God “is the living God, and ste[a]dfast for ever, and his kingdom [is] that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end” (6:26).
A short time later, Daniel has a dream. In it, he sees four winds from heaven stirring up the sea and four giant creatures rising from beneath the water. Each beast is different. The first one, a lion with wings of an eagle, has its wings plucked off while Daniel watches, and it is lifted and carried to land where it stands like a man and is given a man’s mind (or heart). The second, a bear with three rib bones in its mouth, is told to “arise, devour much flesh.” The third, a leopard with four wings and four heads, is given “dominion.” The fourth, “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly,” has ten horns and teeth of iron. An eleventh horn, smaller than the others and covered in eyes and a mouth, grows upward and uproots three others (7:2–8). As Daniel watches in horror, thrones are cast down from heaven, and “the Ancient of days” sit upon one. His “garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire” (7:9). As a stream of fire issues from this Ancient One, thousands upon thousands gather in front of Him, and then, “the judgment was set, and the books were opened” (7:10). As the horn with eyes and a mouth begins to speak, it is killed, and its body is given over to the flames (7:11–12).
Then, Daniel reports something significant:
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom [is] that which shall not be destroyed. (7:13–14)
No other kingdom will ever triumph over the one God is preparing within His redemptive plan—even pagan kings can see that.
But will the mysterious fourth Figure in the furnace remain a mystery?
Does Daniel see a future Kingdom with an everlasting Ruler whose reign will establish a new promise of the Father’s following the fading away of the earthly kingdoms? This day will most certainly come, Daniel says, “and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure” (2:45). But what will it look like? How will it come about?
What do these beasts mean? And what is a “son of man”? Is it just a man? Or is it something/Someone else?
…And what does that Kingdom have to do with a big, flying rock?
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Moving into the Minor Prophets, we see Hosea, the last prophet appointed in the Northern Kingdom before the Assyrian Exile. In his lifetime, he watches as one king after another falls. Like Ezekiel, Hosea is commanded by God to not only tell His people what their unfaithfulness is doing, but to show them in a dramatic demonstration: by marrying a promiscuous woman, Gomer.
In nuptial language (see our study on the Song of Songs), Hosea refers to Israel as a wife of Yahweh, prophesying of the multiple generations of children of Israel who will suffer because of their parents’ wickedness in not turning from their ways and putting away idolatry for good. There will come a day when all of God’s people will see the exile, purchased with the bread, water, wool, flax, oil, wine, grain, silver, and gold that were given to them by God before they turned and offered them to Baal (Hosea 2:5–8). They will wish to come back to their first love, but it will not be with sincerity—like a wayward wife who longs merely to re-indulge in the conveniences of the Husband who cared for her—and they will therefore find that the Husband has taken back what is rightfully His (2:5, 9). The goods obtained during Israel’s idolatry will be lost, like that which is devoured by beasts of the field (2:12).
But after all is trashed, and after generations of punishment, there will come a day when Israel will be comforted, Hosea says. Like a gentle and forgiving Husband, Yahweh will establish a new marriage, a New Covenant promise, with His people. It will be like it was when Israel came up from Egypt the first time, and the idols will be remembered no more, because the Husband will wed His wife Israel to Him “for ever…in lovingkindness, and in mercies” (2:14–19). The people of God will be sown unto the Husband throughout the earth, and those who were once without mercy will have mercy, and those who were once not known as His people will be known as His people again (2:23).
The mysteries of God are many while the nation waits in captivity. Yet Hosea’s words will continue to be repeated to God’s people, ensuring they are never forgotten. In all of Hosea’s prophecies, two verses in particular are striking: In the days beyond the Exile, Gomer and all she represents will be but a distant memory, because God will raise up His people from the dead “in the third day” (6:2)… God, through His prophet, says that “when Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt” (11:1).
Will Israel always be the Bride, and Yahweh her Husband? Or will this arrangement change in the latter days to involve other nations?
What was that about an event regarding the dead coming back to life on the third day? And what could that note about a son from Egypt mean?
Severe droughts and locusts are sweeping the land, and they’ve been brought on by the sin of Israel. Through His prophet, Joel, God says, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit” (Joel 2:28–29).
The Day of the Lord is also coming, the book of Joel repeatedly warns. This will be a judgment on the nations and kingdoms in the last days, when God’s righteous Kingdom will be forever established (1:1–20; 3:1–21).
The message of Joel comes as the nation of Israel is plagued, but according to this prophet, a future event will instill the Holy Spirit of God within the righteous. What an amazing concept! Considering that God only rests within the Holy Temple, that is a thought worth chewing on for the Jews…though that note about a future judgment doesn’t sound too good. What will that look like? And how can any kingdom last forever?
Does this Holy Spirit of God have something to do with that Shepherd Ezekiel sees, or the Branch or Go’el Isaiah speaks of?
Amos is sent by God to the Northern Kingdom, Israel, to deliver a message about the people’s lackluster faith. Their relationship with God has become one of rote ritual, not love and sincerity, and as a result, they are sending the wrong signals to the rest of the surrounding world regarding who God is. His anger about this results in His rejection of their “worship”:
I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. (Amos 5:21–23)
But there will be a remnant someday, Amos prophesies, that will belong to a future Davidic King who will restore David’s tabernacle. The harvest in that coming era, including the Gentiles (“heathen”), will be so plentiful that the “ploughman” will even be ahead of the “reaper” (harvesters won’t be able to keep up with the land’s bounty). The captives of Israel will be forever freed and shall want for nothing (Amos 9:11–15).
What Amos foretells has an “inner” quality Jeremiah mentions as he speaks of a time when following God will no longer be a matter of sacrifices but of something inside each person’s heart. Could this have a connection with Joel’s words about the Holy Spirit of God being installed within the righteous?
Of course, the Lord’s servant Isaiah also speaks of Gentiles, but who in Israel would want to include those “heathens,” and how would those who have never followed the Law and sacrificial requirements ever become one with Israel? And what was that about a “remnant”?
Obadiah’s short prophecy is against the Edomites, who are descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau and, therefore, relatives of Israel. As Babylon has weakened the Jews, these relatives have seen an opportunity to exact revenge upon God’s people, and judgment will therefore come upon Esau’s family line.
Will they learn their lesson? Will this be the last time the Jews go against their own? Deuteronomy 28:9–10 and Amos 9:11–12 look forward to the day “the remnant of Edom” will be called by the name of God. When will this happen, and how? Will it occur through another prophet or, perhaps, through someone from the lineage of Abraham or David?
Wicked nations and cities will always need a Savior. The prophet Jonah is sent to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, to show that God always extends His mercy to any people who seek redemption…even if it’s those sinful Gentiles.
Though Jonah runs from God’s directive to preach His message to the unrighteous inhabitants of this hated city at first, he obeys after he’s swallowed by a giant fish, forced to live in the darkness and threat of death, and returns to his regular life three days later. As the prophet waits upon his hill of sunshine overlooking the city, he praises Yahweh, telling Him that He is “a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness,” and one who withholds the foretold disaster if people turn from their sinful ways (Jonah 4:2). God does not favor one people over another in His extension of salvation.
But in what way does this seemingly unrelated story have to do with the future?
…And why does this bizarre reference to “three days” keep coming up?
The Jews’ wickedness, as always, has purchased their troubles. Micah sees this, and warns that Israel will fall to Assyrian forces (Micah 1:6). This prophet issues a brief message that’s made up of two parts: Israel’s judgment (1:1–3:12) and restoration (4:1–5:15).
But when God speaks in the latter part through His prophet, Micah utters an abnormally specific detail the Hebrew nation cannot grasp. It’s not that they don’t understand that the Ruler who will one day reign over all Israel is eternal (“from everlasting”); nor do they have a problem realizing His lineage will trace back to Judah…
It’s that part about how He will be born in Bethlehem (5:2), Micah says, existing as Peace, personified (5:5).
What’s that about?
Jonah’s assistance to Nineveh does not last. Though they indeed do turn toward God for a time, they soon turn their back on Him again persecuting His people and becoming His enemies. Nahum’s message is one of wrath against Israel’s enemies: He tells the Assyrians they’ll experience judgment like a storm from God (Nahum 1:3–6) for their idolatry (1:14), pride (2:13), murder, deceit, and wickedness against the oppressed (3:1–19).
God will always continue to bring justice, afflicting those who afflict His people, even if it isn’t within their time. But Nahum alludes to a Man who, again, personifies peace; One who will bring Good News (1:15).
Will relief for God’s people really come someday in the manner Nahum prophesies?
What will this message of Good News be?
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The Assyrians fall to the Babylonian Empire, just as Nahum has said. Habakkuk now acknowledges that there is still sin contaminating Israel. In a prayer (Habakkuk 3:1), he calls for God to “revive” His work and remember “mercy” during His wrath (3:2). The prophet praises God for “salvation with [His] anointed” and calls Him “the God of my salvation” (3:13, 18).
How long will it be until Yahweh revives His work among the people and brings them irreversible, constant mercy? Will they have to wait another, say, six hundred years?
And who or what is this “anointed” the God of “salvation” will bring?
At this same time, elsewhere, the prophet Zephaniah, a descendant of King Hezekiah (Zephaniah 1:1), is called to prophesy for the Lord. A central theme of Zephaniah’s message, like Joel’s, is the coming Day of the Lord (2:3)—a day when God will judge the world and “undo all that afflict” His people. Zephaniah sees that God will spare a remnant and will someday “gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame.…for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes” (3:14–20).
Through whom will God carry out these Day-of-the-Lord judgments? Will it be someone He appoints? And how will He offer proof of this Leader’s identity to all?
Israel is freed by Cyrus, king of Persia, and thousands return to the Promised Land. The buzz of excitement about this is great. It is even said that the Lord’s priest, Ezra, is among the Jews in the homeland!
However, God’s people are reluctant to rebuild the Temple. The prophet Haggai watches as Jerusalem’s neighboring enemies do all they can to halt the process. He understands their hesitation is born from a lack of faith in God, so he delivers a prophecy telling the people they must continue in their endeavor and, when they’ve finished, the glory of the Temple will be even grander than before (Haggai 2:9). In a moment that captures the encouraging mood of Haggai’s message, God gives assurance to His people through the prophet: “‘I am with you,’ saith the Lord” (1:13).
Haggai, as well as the rest of the Jews, knows the governor of Jerusalem, Zerubbabel—grandson of King Jehoiachin of Judah (1 Chronicles 3:17) and descendant of David—to whom the building project is given. Therefore, the people of God know the Temple, God’s holy home where His presence dwells, is in the hands of a Son of David.
Will this mirror something for the Temple of the future? Will the Temple always be God’s residence? Or will something about this change through the prophesied Son of David?
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While the Temple is being rebuilt, the Lord appoints another prophet to keep His people moving: Zechariah.
Zechariah is like Haggai in his mission, but is very different from him in his words and enigmatic visions, which tend to focus more on symbolism, regarding events in the far-off future (Zechariah 1:8–6:8). In addition, Zechariah is a priest, so his prophecies about the Temple include the kind of visual details that could only be offered by one who has performed priestly duties within it. Repeatedly in his warnings, using Temple terminology, Zechariah makes it clear that those who are God’s people will have abundant life and blessing, and those who are not will experience death and judgment (1:14; 12:1–5).
In a future time, God says through Zechariah, “many nations shall be joined to the Lord…and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee” (2:11). God’s Servant, once again called the “Branch,” will “grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord…and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne” (3:8; 6:9–13). The place where the Branch-Priest dwells “shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth” (9:10). In a forthcoming, grand day, “living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; Half of them toward the former sea, And half of them toward the hinder sea”; then, this “Lord” will be the “king over all the earth” and will be only “one Lord, and his name one” (14:8–9).
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion,” God says through His prophet, “shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (9:9). We hear again that this imminent King will be linked to the “house of David,” and that He will be “pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son” (12:10).
It’s clear to Zechariah that Israel will reject this King (9:1–11:17). And although they will eventually be restored and delivered (12:1–14:21), at some point the King will be paid the same price as a slave, thirty pieces of silver, which He will “cast…to the potter” (11:12–13). His hands will have wounds upon them, which He will explain by saying they are “those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends” (13:6).[i]
Due to Zechariah dutifully delivering his visions, we now see that the Branch, a High Priest of God, will be the one to build a future, worldwide Temple…but who is the Branch, and where will He build this?
This does appear to be the least of our questions!
Why does the voice behind parts of Zechariah’s message sound like both the Lord and One whom the Lord has sent, while He will also “dwell” with the people? How is that even possible? What does it mean that the Lord’s “name will be one”?
More puzzling: Why will such a King as the one Zechariah mentions come to Israel’s people on a colt, having been “pierced,” after which all will mourn as if they have lost an “only son”?
How can Israel ever reject a Leader Yahweh sends? What will cause such a tragedy? Who in their right minds would believe Him to be worth only thirty pieces of silver—the going price of a slave—and why does He “cast them to the potter”?
Our friend Zechariah is full of mysteries, indeed…
As a result of the work of Ezra and Nehemiah, as well as the prophecies delivered by Haggai and Zechariah, the Temple and the wall of Jerusalem have now been rebuilt by the exiles who returned about a century ago. God’s people are practicing their worship once again.
But nothing appears to be happening. God’s grandiose promises have left Israel feeling empty, and His love is being called into question. As a result, the impatient Hebrews once again begin to fall away from God. Priests offer polluted food upon the altars (Malachi 1:7); young men marry wives with foreign gods, joining the Spirit of God in their covenantal marriages with the faithless (2:11, 14–15); people commit evil acts and believe themselves to be “good in the sight of the Lord” (2:17); tithes and offerings are withheld to the point that God is “robbed” (3:8); and serving God is considered “vain” (3:13–14).
In each way the people have been irreverent, they are now held accountable by Malachi, the prophet.
But Malachi is not be the only messenger who will be sent to them, they learn. Malachi tells of another who will come. God speaks through the prophet, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me!” (3:1). As the people listen to Malachi’s words and are berated for their disloyalty, they’re eager to know who this messenger will be. Finally, in his last statement, God, through the prophet, says: “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (4:4–6).
Wait…Elijah?! Hasn’t he been gone for almost five hundred years by now? What can this mean? And even if Elijah does return, what “way” is he preparing for?
Conclusion to the Prophets
As stated earlier, we’ll tie up all loose ends and unanswered questions that are raised by these seventeen Old Testament books with our examination of their New Testament fulfillment contexts.
However, these seventeen aren’t the only prophets of God who spoke about the Someday Messiah. Not by a long shot. They’re simply considered here as they are books of the Bible, and this work is laser-focused on seeing how all the sixty-six books of the Word point to Him. As far as how many Old Testament prophecies Jesus ultimately fulfilled, the scholarly jury is still gnawing on that and will be until the Second Coming.
The list, depending on the interpreter, is usually hundreds of Scripture passages long (some lists place the number of fulfillments at around 270, and others well over 400). So, the question is not whether Jesus’ First Coming satisfied what was spoken of Him, but how many, and what the odds are that Jesus may not have been the Messiah based on those numbers. For instance, if Jesus was merely a tragic Jewish prophet from the line of David who was born in a small town called Bethlehem, then we would have satisfied only two prophetic details: the town of His birth and His lineage. The chances are high that this same couple of facts would apply to quite a few people in Jesus’ day, so the math isn’t that impressive, even though it eliminates hundreds of thousands of prospects from the list of what historians say were approximately four hundred thousand Jews in the Palestinian area at the time. (Actually, it would be an even greater elimination since over half the population was made up of owned slaves, and we know the Messiah was not prophesied to be a slave.) But each time we add the basic calculable axioms (things we know to be true) to this number and calculate probability (of whoever we think Messiah could be), the list of possible messianic candidates dramatically decreases.
So, the questions become these: What is the likelihood Christ could have accidentally fulfilled many prophecies had He not been who He said He was? What are the chances that Jesus might have been a regular guy who was in the right place and at the right time to appear to be the Messiah, but who is, in fact, not?
That’s where the math gets interesting…
We mentioned The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence of Jesus at the beginning of this book, and it’s relevant research here as well. Author Lee Strobel’s book follows his journey from being an atheist skeptic and secular investigative journalist who loathed the topic of Christ and attempted to prove Him a myth, to becoming a convert when his intensive efforts failed. Strobel’s account is not about a just a guy who didn’t want to hear about Christ so he researched memes on Facebook one day and became a Christian after crying over a few beers with his buddies who wouldn’t stop asking where his late mother was now. Far from it. Strobel vehemently pursued proving the historical Jesus was just a misled man whose followers stretched the truth, and his investigation led him all over the country for several years while he kept digging for the one missing element that would disprove the foundations of Christianity. Strobel’s career as a researcher and writer forced him to get to the very bottom of the facts before reporting his findings. One might argue that not all journalists are honest, and that is a legitimate concern. Strobel’s pursuit of the truth, however, was personal, and it was, for him, a matter of life and death to find it at all costs (the time he spent researching the subject was a season that nearly drove his wife insane) with the motive of being set free from spiritual accountability or securing his eternal soul if he was wrong. Those are high stakes, indeed.
In the midst of his search, he had multiple conversations with authorities on both sides of the argument. Renowned mathematician, Peter W. Stoner, was one he sought counsel from regarding the statistics behind Jesus and prophecy.
The coincidence of Christ accidentally fulfilling only eight of the Old Testament prophecies, Strobel says, is “one chance in one hundred million billion. That number is millions of times greater than the total number of people who’ve ever walked the planet!… [Stoner] also computed that the probability of fulfilling [only] forty-eight prophecies was one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion!”[ii]
To deny such mathematical odds would be hubris, plain and simple.
Because the meaning of some prophecies is a matter of interpretation, we won’t cover each one scholars have identified. Instead, we’re focusing on examples that are either: 1) commonly identified in the academic world with mountains of supportive evidence and discussion; or 2) clearly stated in Scripture and therefore easy to understand.
As one example (spoiler alert!), Psalm 34:20 says that the Someday Savior “keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken” (see also Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12—two verses regarding the treatment of the Passover lambs as sacrifice, which we discussed in the study of Exodus). This prophecy satisfies both of these requirements in that it is: 1) commonly agreed among scholars to be a messianic prophecy in the Old Testament; 2) everyone can understand what the psalmist is saying here (it’s not, say, one of Ezekiel’s enigmatic visions of spinning wheels or such).
When the Roman soldiers crucified victims, they usually broke the bones in the victims’ legs with a club (called “crurifragium”) so they could not push their body weight upward, relieving the weight from the hands and arms, improving circulation, and thus, allowing them to live longer. It’s cruel, but true. If a victim was alive too long and there was a need to accelerate the process of death for any reason, preventing the victim from movement in the lower half of the body accomplished this, and the person would usually die from blood loss or asphyxiation (from poor circulation or the inability to lift one’s head high enough to open the airway).
Therefore, speaking of odds, Jesus’ legs should have, according to the common practice of the day, been broken. If they had, this one prophecy alone wouldn’t have been fulfilled, and Jesus would have been just a Jewish prophet who tragically died for a measly set of principles and a reputation as a semi-popular leader of a local cult comprised of common folks. So, the fact that Jesus did not experience broken legs (John 19:33) is already a mathematical oddity, considering how He died and the fact that His method of crucifixion was an exception to the rule. A mathematician in this case would have to: 1) calculate the probability of a man dying in this exact manner when it was not the norm; 2) add the prophecy to the equation involving other potential prophetic fulfillments; and finally, 3) calculate the possibility that it happened as it did that by some fluke to an individual who also claimed to be the Messiah.
One serious coincidence…and all of that from only looking at one prophecy.
With that said, just who was this Jesus the Christ of Galilee who saved the world? Would all the words of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Zechariah, and the other Old Testament prophets we’ve just discussed be realized in this one Man?
Luckily, we don’t have to wait four hundred years during a silent Intertestamental Period to find out…
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[i] We are aware this verse, Zechariah 13:6, is highly debated, and some scholars believe these wounded hands to belong to the false prophet from prior verses. The evidence, however, stacks in favor of the Messiah, as we will discuss in volume 2 of this series.
[ii] Strobel, Case for Christ. Kindle locations 3024–3031.