“I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord”

In our Advent teaching series Finding Christ In The Creed, we’ve been unpacking word by word this line from the Apostles’ Creed to explore the true identity of our Savior. Take the word “Christ” for example.  

To the ancient Jew, the word “Christ” was a magical word. “Christ” was the Greek rendering for the Hebrew word, “Messiah”. When shepherds watching their flocks by night heard from an angel that the Christ had been born, their hair stood on end. Why? Because for more than a thousand years, the Jewish people had been sustained by one fervent hope. Boiling in their blood was the belief that one day, God would send his “anointed one” – what Messiah literally means – to rescue his people from the power of evil (which in Jesus’ time, meant for most Jews the power of Rome.)

Where did they get this idea, that Christ was coming? That’s where things get interesting. The idea is threaded – and foretold – throughout the tapestry of the entire Old Testament. Through prophecy.

It’s astonishing how few Christians truly let their hearts marinate on the existence of biblical prophecy. Unbelievers and skeptics too, for that matter. There is no other religion that is supported by real, bona fide prophecy the way that Christianity is. Fulfilled prophecy is a self-authenticating feature of our faith. It helps prove to our hearts that Jesus is who is said he is.

Jesus appealed to prophecy as proof of his Messiahship. “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me,” Jesus said (John 5:46). He carried out his ministry with an awareness that he was fulfilling prophecy. When Jesus disarms Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane as the soldiers come to arrest him, he says, “But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:54)

After his resurrection, he took the disciples on a walking tour of the prophecies his had fulfilled. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27, cf.24:44-47) As they listened to him, their hearts burned within them (Luke 24:32), and so should ours when we reflect on these prophecies.  

After Christ’s ascension and the Church was born, the first Christians used fulfilled prophecy to support their preaching (Acts 2:16-35; 8:30-35, 13:32-35, 17:2-3…). We should too, not only to convince our listeners when we share the gospel with them, but to convince ourselves during times when we struggle with doubt.

When I find myself in such moments, I turned to Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53 or I re-read the Passover story in Exodus 13, and I say, “Lord, there’s no explaining this outside of you. This is real. And you are with me. Forgive me for wavering. There is no one like you.”

Time and time again, these prophecies have given God’s people hope in troubled times. They remind us that God is up to something so much bigger than we first realize, and that God is still in control.

“This is what the Lord says…I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no god. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened…and what is yet to come.” {Isaiah 44:6-7)

In a world that is so out of control today, people everywhere are reaching for signs that there is more to life than what we see around us. So many movies and stories today show a longing for the mythological, the metaphysical, the religious, for something transcendent, that’s bigger than us.

In the Christian universe, our God, the one who is the first and the last, is in firm control of everything that happens. Prophecy reminds us that God is not caught off guard by the work of evil people and forces in this world. And there is nothing they can do to keep God from fulfilling his purposes for us.

 


Excursus: For Those Unfamiliar With Old Testament Prophecy, Here Is A Flyover

The genesis for messianic prophecy goes all the way back to Genesis, to the very beginning of the human story, even before the Jews existed as a people.

When Adam and Eve first rebelled against God, God promised that in spite of the curse that had now fallen on them, God would one day raise up a “seed from the woman” (offspring from Eve – so in other words, this deliverer would be human). God says to Satan in that moment “he [the seed of the woman] will bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” – Genesis 3:15.

The Hebrew verb “bruise” is the same in both phrases, but the outcome is different. For to get its head stepped on will end the serpent’s life (for this reason, many translations use the word “crush” here.) But for Eve’s offspring to have his heel bruised means he will win the encounter, though not without suffering.

If this were the only Messianic promise in Scripture, we could laugh it off as silly poetry. But far from it. This is the first of hundreds of promises and prophecies that are scattered like diamonds throughout the Old Testament, pointing to the anointed one whom God would one day send, who will conquer evil, yet suffer in the process.

Moses wrote of the coming Christ. He would be a descendant of Abraham, for God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 – “I will make of you a great nation…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This verse is one of the most important in all the Bible, for it is the key for understanding the entire Old Testament.

The nation that came from Abraham was of course Israel. How would Israel be a blessing to the earth? She would give to the world at least four astonishing gifts: 1) God’s Law – an understanding of how to please God; 2) God’s priesthood – an understanding of how to approach God; 3) God’s Word – an understanding of God’s truth; 4) but the greatest gift of all is that Israel would give to the world God’s Messiah, a great prophet, priest, and King, all rolled into one.

Moses didn’t stop there. He then tells us that the Christ would descend from the tribe of Judah. Genesis 49:10 – “The scepter shall not depart from Judah…until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

He would come as a great prophet like Moses. Deuteronomy 18:15 – “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen.” Even a pagan priest named Balaam foretold his coming. Numbers 24:17 – “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel, it shall crush the forehead of Moab.”

Notice the subtle shift here, from a Messiah that would crush Satan’s head to a Messiah that would crush the head of Israel’s enemies. In time, it was this image of the Messiah which became more and more popular in the Jewish imagination, and which Jesus would have to correct. Yes, he would come as a conquering king, but he would also come as a suffering servant.

David was given vivid prophecies of the coming Messiah, and he describes what he saw in numerous psalms. David writes in Psalm 2 that God will establish his own son as King, a son that God himself will bring to birth. “I will tell of the decree. The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage and the ends of the earth your possession.” A skeptic might say, “Oh, but David is just writing about himself becoming king.” But David never talks this way about himself. David never claimed to be brought to birth by God, or to be God’s Son, or that his rule would be to the ends of the earth.

In Psalm 110, he makes it clear that he’s writing about someone else, when he writes “The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” Across the centuries, everyone knew David was referring to the Messiah, for Jesus called out the Pharisees on this point in Matthew 22:41-46. “Who’s David talking about?” he asks them. But they refused to answer.

One feature to know about most of the Messianic prophecies, is that the writer never says, “What follows now are my predictions about the coming Messiah.” The prophecies instead are seamlessly imbedded in the writing. But in the course of writing, the tone suddenly shifts, and the description suddenly goes far beyond what the author had been talking about.

As an example, in Psalm 22, David begins by writing, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He proceeds in the first five verses to describe a man who is besieged by enemies. David could easily have been writing about himself, for he often found himself in danger like this.

But then suddenly in verse 6, he begins to describe a type of suffering which he never experienced in his life.

“All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads. ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him!’…I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and my feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:6-7, 14-18).

What’s David describing here? Anyone who’s familiar with it, will readily concede that he’s describing the crucifixion of our Lord, as though he were an actual eyewitness. It’s not a stretch to believe that in some fashion he was an eyewitness of sorts, and to conclude that clearly God had given him a vision of the coming Christ.

Not only did Moses and David write of him, but the prophets wrote of the coming Christ, over and over again. Two hundred years after David, Isaiah wrote prolifically of the Messiah. He would be born of a virgin, (7:14). He would minister in Galilee and have a soft spot in his heart for the Gentiles (9:1). His greatness and the growth of his kingdom couldn’t be stopped. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace, there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) He would come not just for the Jews, but for all the nations. “In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal for the peoples – of him shall the nations inquire.” (Isaiah 11:10; we must not forget that the prophecies in Genesis were given before Israel was even a twinkle in God’s eyes. The promise of Genesis 3:15, and 12:1-3, where given with the world’s deliverance in view.)

Isaiah foretold the exact miracles that the Messiah would do. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped, then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongues of the mute sing for joy.” (Isaiah 35:5-6)

But then comes the crescendo of Isaiah’s prophecies. Isaiah like David would be given a haunting glimpse at how the Messiah would suffer when he came. And he too described it with a vividness and detail that will leave the humble reader breathless.

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the 
LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the 
LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

I tremble every time I read this. The apostles themselves who saw Jesus die with their own eyes did not describe his death on the hill of Calvary with any more detail than Isaiah did. In fact, I believe Isaiah surpasses what they wrote, because in these twelve verses he describes Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, and also supplies the theological explanation for why this terrible thing happened. It’s insightful, even jaw-dropping to remember when Isaiah wrote his prophecies – 700 years before Jesus was even born!

Additionally, there are dozens and dozens more prophecies filling the rest of the Old Testament. Micah prophesied his birthplace (5:2). Zechariah prophesied that he would enter triumphantly into Jerusalem riding on the foal of a donkey, then would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, while his betrayer would be linked in some fashion to a potter’s field (9:9, 11:12-13). Daniel foretold the exact progression of world powers that would precede the Messiah’s coming, and predicted that the Messiah would be cut off during the days of the most dread and powerful of all the empires, Rome. A strong case can be made that Daniel foretold it down to the very year (9:20-27).

It was Daniel who called the Messiah the “Son of Man”, a title Jesus gladly adopted. “I saw in the night visions, and behold with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14). Hosea foretold a reviving and raising up (i.e. resurrection) after three days (6:2). Jeremiah foretold the dawning of a new age where God would establish a “new covenant” with his people (31:31-34). Ezekiel prophesied that God himself would come as the shepherd-king of his people, through a descendant of David who would rule over his people by bringing back the strayed, binding up the injured, strengthening the weak, and feeding them in justice (34:16, 23-24).

This is just a sampling of countless Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, which offer compelling evidence for why Christians believe the Bible to be a book of supernatural original, the Word of God. God, through Isaiah, provides the reason why he has filled his book with prophecy:

“Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old. Before they came to pass, I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them.’” – Isaiah 48:4-5.

Each prophecy or picture Scripture presents of Christ becomes evidence that we place in the scales of reason. You will have to ask yourself, “Could human writers have made all this up? Could these prophecies be just lucky guesses?” Maybe one or two of them, perhaps. Even a blind squirrel can find a nut, I’ve heard it said. But could a blind squirrel prepare an entire Thanksgiving feast?

There are so many prophecies and so many pictures which Jesus Christ completely and perfectly fulfilled (e.g. the Passover, the Jewish Feasts, the Priesthood), given by so many different writers who lived centuries apart from each other, that sooner or later a person in their right mind must say, “Something else must explain this. Something else must be going on.”

And that Something would have to be…go ahead and say it…God.

 

Bear Clifton, writer and screenwriter, is the pastor of BridgeWay Community Church in California, Maryland. His blogs, screenplays and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, “A Sparrow Could Fall”, and his latest – “Living Under The Cross”, a collection of essays on the Beatitudes – all available through Amazon.

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