Jesus: The Fulfillment of Old Testament
Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
Dade City, Florida
Clarence Macartney has aptly pointed out that since the minds of men are differently constituted, one kind of evidence will appeal to one nature while evidence of a different sort will appeal to another.1 The marvelous thing about New Testament Christianity is that it carries with it all kinds of evidence to suit all kinds of minds. There is a definite adaptation of Christianity to the needs of human nature. In the category of evidences presented to the human mind for the divinity of Christ, foremost in the New Testament, the teaching of Jesus and the preaching of the Apostles, is the fulfillment of prophecies.
In this writing the reader is called upon to consider just one kind of proof for Christianity, the fulfillment by Jesus Christ of ancient prophecies relating to Him. This material appeals with equal force to believers and nonbelievers, and is the one great evidence to which the Bible itself points. It is the argument of Christ about himself and the one great argument of the Apostles for the authority of Jesus Christ.
What is the importance of this line of reasoning? Just this: if we have a series of predictions foretelling clearly future events which no native shrewdness and no clever guess could have arrived at, and the fulfillment of which could not have been cleverly contrived by an impostor, then the fulfillment of these predictions necessitates a supernatural power at work. In other words, the fulfillment of prophecy by Christ proves Him Divine and demonstrates that Christianity is a divine revelation. Did Christ in His life and death, and in His earthly ministry fulfill the prophecies made in the Old Testament? If He did, then He must be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. When we talk about Jesus' fulfillment of prophecy, we are not talking about a single prediction uttered by one man at one point in history, a prediction fulfilled by Christ. We could discuss many predictions uttered by many different men through many hundreds of years, and all at last converging in Jesus Christ. Truly the greatest proofs of Jesus Christ are the prophecies. But we will confine ourselves to several prophecies of one man, Isaiah.
As Bernard Ramm has pointed out, we need only one prophecy and its fulfillment to prove our point. He says, "one real case of fulfilled prophecy would establish a supernatural act. But if our interpretation of the prophetic passages be correct, there are great numbers of them. One unequivocal miracle, one indubitable fulfilled prophecy would show the fallacy of naturalism, for the causal web of the universe would be ruptured at that point through which the supernatural is intruded. Therefore, radical doubt must be certain it has silenced the testimony of all prophecies, whereas the Christian asserts that rather than resting the case on one prophecy, we have dozens at our beck and call."2 Be this as it may, we appeal to several lines of argument as proof of our proposition that Jesus Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. We still do this, as suggested above, by studying one major prophecy, that of Isaiah 53.
Jesus and the Apostles
The Old Testament promised the coming of a Messiah. The first Messianic promise is Genesis 3:15, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Of this same seed it was said, "and when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever" (2 Sam. 7:12-13, cf. Jer. 23:5-6; Mal. 3:1). These find their fulfillment in expressions such as, "but when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law" (Gal. 4:4). Jesus claimed to have fulfilled prophecy relating to himself. He said, "search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (Jno. 5:39). He said later in this context, "for had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me" (Jno. 5:46). Jesus told the twelve on one occasion, "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished" (Lk. 18:31).
The basic argument used by the Apostles to prove the Deity of Christ was prophecy. This was Peter's approach on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36). When Peter and John went up to the Temple at the ninth hour, they healed a lame man. They had occasion to preach to the people and among other things Peter said, "but those things which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled" (Acts 3:18). He proves Christ's Deity by the fulfillment of prophecy. He sums it up by saying, "Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days" (Acts 3:24). Peter concludes the sermon by saying, "Unto you, first God, having raised up his son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities" (Acts 3:26). Peter's appeal to Cornelius was, "to him gave all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43). He then commanded him to be baptized (Acts 10:48). The list under this heading could go on but this is sufficient to demonstrate our point.
Isaiah 53rd Chapter
By approaching our caption from Isaiah 53, emphasis is upon the "Christ" of our confession (Acts 8:37; Rom. 10:10) and the fact that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God identified as the fulfiller of Old Testament prophecy. There is no doubt about Isaiah 53 applying to Christ. We have an inspired application of the passage. Philip applied it to Jesus in Acts 8:35. Yet, skeptics want to say the passage in Isaiah applied to Israel. This is not so. Look at the context.3
(1) The one in Isaiah 53:9 was innocent. Israel was not the innocent one (Isa. 1:4-6; 3:9; 42:24-25).
(2) The suffering one of Isaiah 53:7 was a voluntary sufferer. Not so with Israel.
(3) Israel did not bear her suffering in silence, but the one in Isaiah 53 did (cf. v. 7).
(4) The sufferer of Isaiah 53 atoned for the sins of humanity (53:5-6, 11-12). Israel atoned for the sins of no one.
(5) The one referred to in Isaiah 53 went through suffering resulting in a death for mankind (53:8-10, 12). Israel's suffering did not result in such a death.
It should be observed therefore that the passage is talking about Jesus Christ and not about the nation of Israel. It was natural that Philip would preach Christ based on Isaiah because the eunuch asked, "of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?" (Acts 8:34). Verse 35 of Acts 8 specifically says that Jesus was preached at this passage. The suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the Christ of our confession. Let us, in the space remaining, look at some of the prophecies of Isaiah 53 and their fulfillment to sustain this proposition.
1. Isaiah prophesied of the rejection of Jesus Christ. He said, "who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed" (53:1). That Jesus was rejected, no one can deny. One can hear Christ crying to the Israel of His day, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doeth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" (Lk. 13:34). John 12:37 says, "but though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him." The very fact that the Jews consulted to kill Jesus (Matt. 26:3-4) and accomplished their feat (Acts 2:36) shows the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:1.
2. Isaiah foresaw the reasons for the rejection of Christ: "for he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form or comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not" (Isa. 53:2-3). These reasons were true. On one occasion the Jews were astonished at the teaching of Jesus and said, "is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him" (Mk. 6:3). Jesus himself said, ". . . foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Lk. 9:58). It is no wonder that Paul said, "we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:23).
3. Isaiah said Jesus would suffer in silence when he said, "he was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth" (53:7). This prophecy, like others in this context, was fulfilled to the letter. Matt. 27:12-14 records the fact that "when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing." When Pilate addressed himself to Jesus, the text says, "and he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly."
4. Isaiah said that Jesus would die with the wicked. He said, "and he made his grave with the wicked . . ." (53:9). Matthew records the fact that there were "two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left" (27:38).
5. Jesus would he "with the rich in his death," Isaiah said (53:9). Here is a poor, destitute man dying among thieves, yet being with the rich in death. This is not the way a common man would have written without inspiration. Was this fulfilled? Yes, for we read in Matt. 27:57-60 that "when the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple: He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed." Jesus was truly with the rich in His death.
6. Another interesting thing about the Isaiah passage is that it says that death would not hold the Savior. "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand" (53:10). Peter, speaking as he was moved by the Spirit (Acts 2:4), said that David agreed with this (Acts 2:24-31; 13:28-31). He says, "whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face . . ." The conclusion is, "therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, bath Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). The resurrected Christ is one of the great facts of the New Testament (1 Cor. 15:12-20).
The conclusion of J. Gresham Machen, as quoted in Isaiah 53 by Edward J. Young, is fitting at this point. "If there is any passage in the Old Testament which seems to the Christian heart to be a prophecy of the redeeming work of Christ, it is that matchless fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. We read it today, often even in preference to New Testament passages, as setting forth the atonement which our Lord made for the sins of others upon the cross. Never, says the simple Christian, was a prophecy more gloriously plain" (Preface). It is no wonder that the eunuch, after hearing Isaiah 53 applied to Christ, desired baptism (Acts 8:36) and freely confessed, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:37). The Christ of prophecy is truly the Christ of our confession.
1. Twelve Great Questions About Christ (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids), p. 39.
2. Protestant Christian Evidences, p. 86.
3. Based on a sermon preached by Larry Haftey
Truth Magazine, XX:22, p. 4-6