Generally speaking, it means that Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection were predicted (sometimes in broad terms, sometimes in very specific detail) by prophets in ancient Israel. The Old Testament contains many such prophecies. These predictions are important because they establish that Jesus is God’s promised Messiah—if we can see that Jesus’ life and activities match ancient predictions about the Messiah, Jesus’ claim to be the long-awaited Son of God gains credibility.
That’s why various New Testament writers, when discussing the events of Jesus’ life, occasionally point out connections to Old Testament prophecy. For example, John 12:38 explains that Jesus encountered disbelief despite his miracles “to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet.” Jesus himself was certainly aware that his life and ministry bore a very close connection to the predictions of God’s prophets:
[Jesus] said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
(Interestingly, passages like this suggest that the Messiah’s relationship with prophecy was not just to perfectly match it, but to help people understand what those predictions meant.)
A list of Old Testament passages thought to be referring to Jesus Christ would take up more time and space than a simple blog post allows (in fact, many books have been written on the subject). However, as we continue our journey through Holy Week, it seems appropriate to share one of the most famous Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. As you read through the passage below, ask yourself these questions:
- What general qualities does this passage ascribe to the Messiah?
- Can you identify any references to specific events in the life of the Messiah—particularly the events of Easter?
- Imagine that you are reading this passage without any knowledge of the Easter story. What conclusions might you draw? And how does your understanding of the passage change once you’ve heard the Easter story?
Who has believed our message?
To whom has the Lord’s power been revealed?
He grew up in his presence like a young tree,
like a root out of dry ground.
He had no form or majesty that would make us look at him.
He had nothing in his appearance that would make us desire him.
He was despised and rejected by people.
He was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering.
He was despised like one from whom people turn their faces,
and we didn’t consider him to be worth anything.
He certainly has taken upon himself our suffering
and carried our sorrows,
but we thought that God had wounded him,
beat him, and punished him.
He was wounded for our rebellious acts.
He was crushed for our sins.
He was punished so that we could have peace,
and we received healing from his wounds.
We have all strayed like sheep.
Each one of us has turned to go his own way,
and the Lord has laid all our sins on him.
He was abused and punished,
but he didn’t open his mouth.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
He was like a sheep that is silent
when its wool is cut off.
He didn’t open his mouth.
He was arrested, taken away, and judged.
Who would have thought that he would be removed
from the world?
He was killed because of my people’s rebellion.
He was placed in a tomb with the wicked.
He was put there with the rich when he died,
although he had done nothing violent
and had never spoken a lie.
Yet, it was the Lord’s will to crush him with suffering.
When the Lord has made his life a sacrifice for our wrongdoings,
he will see his descendants for many days.
The will of the Lord will succeed through him.
He will see and be satisfied
because of his suffering.
My righteous servant will acquit many people
because of what he has learned through suffering.
He will carry their sins as a burden.
So I will give him a share among the mighty,
and he will divide the prize with the strong,
because he poured out his life in death
and he was counted with sinners.
He carried the sins of many.
He intercedes for those who are rebellious.
—Isaiah 53 (GOD’s WORD Translation)