The Sure Word of Prophecy:
Fulfillment in Acts (I)- An Exposition of Acts (3)
Clinton D. Hamilton
Temple Terrace, Florida
It affords me no little pleasure to write on a theme of such importance as is the sure word of prophecy.
Origin of Scripture. From a statement penned by Peter comes the idea of the word of prophecy more sure, "And we have the word of prophecy made more sure; ...knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:19-21). The origin of scripture, not its meaning, is the point I want to emphasize just here. Scripture originated with God and came to us by men moved by the Holy Spirit. My task is to deal with this sure word's fulfillment in the book of Acts.
Comparison is made in 2 Peter 1:19 between the sure word of prophecy and eye witness testimony to which Peter had appealed in affirming the certainty of the matters he declared concerning the Christ. It was not cunningly devised fables the apostle spoke of when he made known to them "the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Pet. 1:16). God's voice borne from heaven declared "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." Peter said of this voice, "And this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount" (2 Pet. 1:18). There is, however, even more sure or certain witness to the Christ. What? It is the word of prophecy.
But some one might inquire as to why this witness is greater than eyewitness testimony. Eyewitness testimony is man's observation. Scriptures are God's voice for they did not come by the will of man, but were spoken by men being moved by the Holy Spirit. Hence scriptures are the voice of God. Further, the prophecies concerning the Christ are broader and more comprehensive than the voice Peter and his companions heard in the mountain. It was one voice, but the prophesies are many given over several centuries.
Use of Old Testament scriptures by the apostles. It should come as no surprise to find the apostles making frequent use of the prophets in affirming that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. "And Paul, as his custom was, went in unto them, and for three sabbath days reasoned with them from the scriptures, opening and alleging that it behooved the Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom, said he, I proclaim unto you, is the Christ" (Acts 1 7:2' 3).
Though he appealed to what his auditors personally knew of the man Jesus, Peter told those on Pentecost that God had fulfilled his words about Jesus spoken by David (Acts 2:23-36). To the house of Cornelius Peter said of Jesus, "To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43).
The gospel of God which Paul preached was "promised before through his prophets in the holy scriptures" (Rom. 1: 2). This gospel concerned God's Son, "who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:3,4). When Paul referred to the evidences for the identity of Jesus, he said, "For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4).
This frequent use of the more sure word to prove the deity and messiahship of Jesus is one of the most striking characteristics of apostolic preaching. We should seek to understand this use of prophecy.
Due to space limitations it is not possible to deal with all the fulfillments referred to in the book of Acts. Consequently it seems the part of wisdom to limit our discussion primarily to two sermons in which appeal to prophecy is made. The first is Peter's second sermon (Acts 3).
The miracle of healing which is the occasion for appeal to prophecy. Gathering themselves around Peter and John on Solomon's porch with great wonder and amazement over what had happened to the man, lame from his mother's womb, who had been healed by the apostles, the men of Jerusalem were ready to hear an explanation of what they were witnessing. Peter responded, "Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this man? or why fasten ye your eyes on us, as though by our own power of godliness we had made him to walk?" (Acts 3: 12). From Alford we have this explanation of power and godliness: power, "dunamei," such as magical crafts; godliness, "eusebeia," meritorious efficacy with God, so as to have obtained this from him on their own account.
Nothing was wrong with their amazement but the fault lay with their blindness of heart in failing to recognize the power that wrought what they observed. This miracle of the healing of a man lame since birth gave the occasion for a great sermon showing Jesus to be the fulfillment of prophecy.
The explanation is God. Explanation for the miracle is accounted for only by the power of God. But what God? "The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Servant Jesus" (Acts 3: 13). Such reference to God was well known to this Jewish audience, for since its first occurrence in Exodus-3:6 the expression "the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob" was wonderful to Jewish ears. Immediately there would come to their minds the promises God had made to these fathers. Abraham first received them (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:13-18) and they were repeated to Isaac and to Jacob (Gen. 26:2-4; 28: 13-14). Every Jew was zealous to rehearse these promises in the ears of his children; consequently, there was general knowledge of them and an expectancy concerning their ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah.
Next Peter shows that this same God glorified Jesus. The expression "his Servant Jesus" refers to the servant prophecies of the Old Testament. Jehovah's righteous servant was destined both to bear the iniquities of and to justify many (Isa. 53:11). He poured "out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors: yet he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isa. 53: 12). No doubt exists in our minds as to whether this servant prophecy had reference to Christ for Jesus applied it to himself in these words, "For I say unto you, that this which is written must be fulfilled in me, and he was reckoned with transgressors: For that which concerneth me hath fulfillment" (Lk. 22:37).
It seems appropriate at this point to give attention to a matter often overlooked when prophecies and their fulfillments are studied. It is not the mere quoting of a prediction and saying it is fulfilled that should engage our thought. But it should be noted that the ideal comprehended in the Old Testament utterances is completely and fully brought to fruition and reality in Jesus. In this same connection, it should also be observed that many predictions applied to Jesus do not apply exclusively to him but when applied to him, we should understand that all that a servant of Jehovah should be was ideally and completely present in Christ.
All the hopes, desires and expectations of Israel were bound up in the utterances of God, their prophecies. But until Christ came no servant blessed them with remission of sins. Christ Jesus is perfect king, priest prophet, servant, and sacrifice. What a grand thought; All types, shadows, and predictions of the Old Testament concerning the perfect servant of Jehovah who was to bless his people find their fulfillment in Jesus, the son of David, the son of God. Prophecy then is broad, comprehensive, and far more meaningful when viewed from the standpoint of its fulfillment in the ideal person, Jesus. What others were in an imperfect way, and what utterances of God concerning them conveyed are completely, and fully brought to men in Christ Jesus.
Isaiah predicted God's righteous servant would bear the sins of many (Isa. 53:11, 12) and would be a servant to many. In whom is this so wonderfully and completely fulfilled? Hear Jesus: "For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mk. 10:4S). On his crucifixion night he said, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (Mk. 14:24). Can there be any doubt that he brought about complete fulfillment of these words of the prophet, "By the knowledge of himself shall my righteous servant justify many" (Isa. 53: 11)?
This ideal person of Jehovah, his Servant, is known as the Messiah. He would have God's spirit upon him (Isa. 42:1); would bring forth justice and light to the Gentiles (Isa. 42:1, 6); would use the method of peace and would be meek in heart (Isa. 42:2,3); would have justice and righteousness as the characteristics of his rule (Isa. 42:3,4). This Jesus they had known is the Servant whom God had glorified or exalted, and through whom the miracle of healing had been wrought. What a grand sweep of prophetic fulfillment is embraced in Peter's carefully chosen words!
Another significant and interesting point in the Old Testament is that Israel, the nation, is sometimes referred to as the servant of Jehovah. "But thou, Israel, my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend..." (Isa. 41:8; See also: Isaiah 42:18-25; 43:8-13; 44:1-5; 21-28; 45:4; 48:20-22). But all "servant prophecies," whether of the nation or an individual, have their complete and final fulfillment in this Jesus whom the Jews had crucified a few days before. Though Israel witnessed to the deity of Jehovah through the fulfillment of promises to her, she was imperfect and lacking in many respects. Think of all that flooded their hearts as they reflected on the words, "the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Servant Jesus." What pains of conscience to those who were convinced of his identity! But also what joy to know that this great "servant" had now come and would bless men!
So it was that this Servant of Jehovah had been exalted. "Behold, my servant shall deal wisely, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high" (Isa. 52:13). All these prophecies merge in one man who was ideally all that a servant could and should be. King Cyrus had been God's servant, too, in delivering Israel from Babylonian captivity, enabling a return to Palestine (Isa. 44:28; 45:1-7), but deliverance from sin was accomplished only by the ideal Servant Jesus.
Contrast of Men's view of the Servant with God's. God's soul delighted in him (Isa. 42: 1) but the actions of men toward him were the antithesis of this.
The same Jesus whom they delivered up and denied before the face of Pilate' when he had determined to release him is the one God exalted (Acts 3:13). They "denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted" unto them (Acts 3:14). Prominent in Old Testament scriptures is the idea of the holy and righteous one. The ideal is in David's last words recorded in 2 Samuel 23:3. Similar scriptures were well known to Peter's audience. "Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in justice" (Isa. 32:1; cf. 53: 11) and "Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Zech. 9:9). Jesus, Peter asserts, is the righteous one whom they had murdered. He was God's servant!
Even demons had confessed that he was the Holy One (Mk. 1:24; Lk. 4:34). Later the disciples said that Pilate, Herod, the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel gathered against "thy holy Servant Jesus" (Acts 4:27). The same disciples affirmed that God stretched forth his hand "that signs and wonders may be done through the name of thy holy Servant Jesus" (Acts 4:30). What a masterly and consistent use of the more sure word!
Before a blind and bitter Jewish audience, Stephen charged Israel with having "killed them that showed before of the coming of the Righteous One; of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:52). God appointed Paul to see the "righteous One, and to hear a voice from his mouth" (Acts 22: 14). Pilate's wife witnessed of him that he was a "righteous man" (Matt. 27:19) and later Pilate himself said, "I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man" (Matt. 27: 24). Having commended his spirit to God, Jesus expired and as this occurred the centurian said, "Certainly this was a righteous man" (Lk. 23:47). How great was the evidence to the truthfulness of Peter's statement that Jesus was the Holy and Righteous One! Facts and prophecy blend perfectly and harmoniously in these scriptures.
They had "killed the Prince of life; whom God raised from the dead" (Acts 3: 15). David had said' "For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption" (Psa. 16: 10) and "Jehovah saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, Until I make shine enemies thy footstool" (Psa. 110: 1). Though he was God's ideal Servant, you rejected him. "By faith in his name," said Peter, "hash his name made this man strong, whom ye behold and know: yea, the faith which is through him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all" (Acts 3:16). Eye witnesses testified to the factual reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and scripture predicted it. Men killed Jesus, but God raised him. This miracle was possible through the apostles' faith in the Servant whom God had raised and exalted, even Jesus.
Things shown by the mouth of all the prophets. Having shown that the miracle could be explained only in connection with God, Peter now turns to the things foreshown by the mouth of all the prophets that Jesus should suffer, which now had been fulfilled.
"The mouth of all the prophets" emphasizes the fact that though there were many different prophets foreshowing things concerning Jesus they nevertheless were one mouth, God's mouth. That a prophet is a mouth for another is demonstrated in scripture. Aaron was to be Moses's mouth (Ex. 4:16) but he was also his prophet (Ex. 7:1). A prophet then is the mouth of God. Since the prophets to whom Peter appealed spoke from God, they must have been the mouth of God.
On one occasion the Master made application of the prophets' message to himself. "And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Lk. 24:27). What was it that had been foreshown by the prophets that had to be fulfilled?
Psalm 22 records the anguished cry of David but bound up in this cry is the prediction of the suffering of Jesus, the righteous for the unrighteous. David suffered abuse from the wicked; Jesus suffered as the ideal righteous one. Though David was righteous in many respects, he still fell short of the perfection envisioned in the ideal. Jesus was lacking in nothing so that he becomes the complete fulfillment of the prophecy. Many specific words and deeds of Psalm 22 are minutely fulfilled in Jesus which fact is evident upon a close reading of the gospel accounts of our Lord's crucifixion. Is it not exceedingly remarkable that prophecy could first be uttered concerning matters of the time of its writing but have an ultimate, final, and complete fulfillment centuries later? Such is the word of God.
Distressed by his adversaries, David implored God to save him and to bring shame upon those who hate God (Psa. 69). Truly David trusted in God and for God's sake he bore reproach, and shame covered his face (Psa. 69:7). "For the zeal of thy house hath eaten me up; And the reproaches of them that reproach thee are fallen upon me" (Psa. 69:9). True of David, yes; of Jesus it was true in the absolute, with no lack. When Jesus was cleaning the temple, "his disciples remembered that it was written, Zeal for thy house shall eat me up" (Jn. 2:17). How perfectly Jesus fulfilled this; he was the reality of the ideal envisioned in the Psalm.
Our Lord pleased not himself "but as it is written, the reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me" (Rom. 15:3). Eminently true of David but perfectly and completely true of the Christ. See the ideal and complete fulfillment of the prophecy in Jesus. It is not merely the quoting of a passage and saying it is fulfilled. It is the embodiment in the life of Jesus of all that was in the utterance!
The Lord's servant turns to Jehovah for help with full assurance that God comforts (Isa. 50:4-9). In his face spitters may spit and on his back smiters may lay lashes, but God's servant will take the abuse, knowing the God of his spirit will not fail him. With no degree of imperfection, Jesus demonstrated what the servant of God should be. "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting" (Isa. 50:6). Observe these prophetic statements: "Like as many were astonished at thee (his visage was so marred more than any man and his form more than the sons of men)" (Isa. 52:14). "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith Jehovah of hosts; smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered; and I will turn my hand upon the little ones" (Zech. 13:7). New Testament scriptures abound with references to these prophecies which Christ perfectly fulfilled in suffering as God's servant, the righteous for the unrighteous.
Prophetic fulfillment is far more significant than a mere quoting of words or a mere movement of the body to comply with a prediction. Jesus is the consummation, the factual realization of the great ideal contemplated in the prophecy. The apostles presented him as the embodiment of centuries of divine utterances as to the character and nature of a true follower and servant of God. We miss the prophetic argument if we fail to see this.
All things thus having been brought to completion in Jesus, Peter commands his hearers: "Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord; and that he may send the Christ who hath been appointed for you, even Jesus: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, whereof God spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been from of old" (Acts 3:19-21).
Jesus, the ideal Servant of Jehovah, has been appointed as the Messiah and was sent to convert men (Acts 3:20). Though he came to earth, he is now in the heaven and must be there until the times of the restoration of all things. This utterance of the apostle would no doubt call to their minds the entering into heaven of the King of glory (Psa. 24:7-10). In this Peter affirms the ascension of Jesus into heaven as the king of glory. "Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led away captives; Thou hast received gifts among men, Yea, among the rebellious also, that Jehovah God might dwell with them" (Psa. 68:18). Though this was a Psalm of David and dealt with matters of his day so far as its immediate message is concerned, it also perfectly deals with the ascension of Jesus as is clear from their words, "But unto each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men" (Eph. 4:7, 8). Until such time as all things are brought to completion through Christ as God purposed, Jesus will remain in the heaven. Then he will come again and bring to an end this present age.
God foreshowed the coming of the prophetmessiah. "Moses indeed said, A prophet shall the Lord God raise up unto you from among your brethren, like unto me; to him shall ye hearken in all things whatsoever he shall speak unto you. And it shall be, that every soul that shall not hearken to that prophet, shall be utterly destroyed from among the people" (Acts 3:22,23). Though what Moses spoke was true of all prophets, it was perfectly fulfilled in the Christ. Peter then made application of Moses's utterance and added, "Yea and all the prophets from Samuel and them that followed after, as many as have spoken they also told of these days" (Acts 3:24). Jesus is God's great ideal prophet through whom his revelation is made fully and completely (Heb. 1: 1). Jesus is that prophet, the ideal prophet, for whom all the Jews earnestly waited (John 1:21). Feeding five thousand from so little a supply of food, Jesus astounded the people and they said, "This is of a truth the prophet that cometh into the world" (Jn. 6:14).
Masterfully combining the prophetic and promisory messages, Peter concluded, "Ye are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Servant, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one from your iniquities" (Acts 3:25,26).
Under divine guidance, Peter has skillfully woven the threads of prophecy, promise and historical facts into a beautiful fabric, as it were. Men can be blessed with remission of sin through this Servant of God. Servant of both man and God, Jesus is the ideal Servant, the man of the ages!
Prophetic statements fulfilled in reaction to preaching. Reaction to the preaching of the Christ was likewise a fulfillment of the sure word of prophecy. The disciples lifted up their voice to God when being persecuted, saying, "O Lord, thou that didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is; who by the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David thy servant, didst say, Why did the Gentiles rage, And the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth set themselves in array, And the rulers were gathered together, Against the Lord, and against his Anointed: for of a truth in this city against the holy Servant Jesus whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel foreordained to come to pass" (Acts 4:2428). These enemies of God's Servant really exemplified fully what had been predicted. Theirs was and embodiment of the opposition foreshown.
May we have the boldness to speak in the name of Jesus, God's holy Servant, and keep faith in the sure word! Acknowledging Jesus as the fulfillment of the sure word, may we urge others to come to be blessed with the remission of sins. May we not embody the opposition predicted!
Truth Magazine VII: 12, pp. 10-15