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The Anticipation of Israel's Messiah

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Whenever we think of Israel's anticipation of the coming Messiah, we do so with about as much zeal as we would have watching a video tape of the Dallas Cowboys' loss last Sunday to the Cincinnati Bengals. We know who the Israel Messiah is, and thus there is no mystery or suspense about the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy regarding Messiah. Our fascination and interest is, however, stimulated by discussions pertaining to the unknown elements of the future--the identity of the antichrist, or of the "great harlot" of Revelation, or the nations which comprise the revived Roman Empire.

In the light of the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament (at least those pertaining to His first coming) we fail to appreciate what it must have been like to be an Israelite looking forward to the arrival of Messiah. How, for example, every pregnant Israelite woman would wonder whether or not the child in her womb was a son, and if a son, if he might be the Messiah. While we read the gospel accounts of the Messiah's birth, we cannot really fathom the depth of joy experienced by those godly few who had yearned for the Messiah's arrival.

The purpose of this message is to focus on the progressive revelation of Israel's Messiah in the Old Testament, and the growing expectation, which climaxed at the time of Christ's coming. At some times in Israel's history, the anticipation of Messiah's coming was great, while at other times the sense of expectancy waned. In many instances, Israel's hopes seemed to be dashed on the rocks of reality. It is only as we can appreciate the rising and falling hopes of God's people that we can more fully grasp the greatness of the event of Christ's birth.

Early in the Bible, we are given a skeletal outline, with some of the essential facts. As the Old Testament continues, we find more and more of the details filled in, until, at the end of the Old Testament, a great deal was known about God's Messiah who was to come. The New Testament writers make a point of informing us of many of the ways in which our Lord's person and birth fulfilled these prophecies, and also some aspects of fulfillment which were not even viewed as prophetic.1

Our lesson will not deal with the New Testament texts or the arrival of His coming, since that is the subject of another message. We will not even be able to study all of the Old Testament texts which foretell the coming of Messiah. We will, however, attempt to gain a sense of Israel's expectation in the various stages of her history and development. It is hoped that gaining a greater grasp of the anticipation of Messiah's coming will enhance our celebration of Christmas this year.

Hope in the Pentateuch

As we should come to expect, the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) reveals much about the coming Messiah, in broad and general terms which will be further clarified as further Scripture is given. I will focus on the Messianic hope as developed in the Book of Genesis. In Genesis 1 and 2, God has created the universe, which included all living things and man, as the crown of creation.2 Had Adam and Eve obeyed God in the one prohibition (not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, 2:16-17), they could have lived eternally in fellowship with God and in joyful occupation in the garden. Satan tempted them, however, and their disobedience had profound implications, so great that only time would reveal them all.

In Genesis chapter 3 God pronounced a curse on each of the three parties involved in the fall. Here, I wish to focus your attention on the consequences for the serpent and for the woman.

And the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly shall you go, And dust shall you eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel" (Genesis 3:14-15).

God began by addressing Satan and spelling out the punishment for his sin. This is appropriate in light of the fact that Satan was the instigator, the tempter. He enticed the woman with the thought of disobedience. As the promoter of sin, his punishment rightly comes first. The first promise of a coming Messiah in the Bible comes in God's rebuke of Satan in Genesis 3:15. The promise is technically a promise of destruction for the serpent, and only secondarily the promise of salvation for Adam and Eve and the whole human race. The Messiah was to come, then, both to destroy Satan and to deliver men from his dominion, a theme which continues on into the New Testament.3

There is another reason why I believe the judgment of Satan is given first: The destruction of Satan and thus the deliverance of man gives hope to Adam and Eve, even in their punishment. After Satan's judgment is pronounced (from which there is no deliverance) the penalties for Adam (and thus men) and for Eve (and thus all women) are indicated. The difference here is that the pain of the penalty is softened by the promise of deliverance. Specifically, Eve will suffer birth pangs in child-bearing, but this pain will be eased by the knowledge that her offspring will also be the means of Satan's destruction. Motherhood has its painful price, but it also has a promise: Eve's seed will prove to be Satan's destroyer.

Adam and Eve would soon learn that God's grace was essential to the fulfillment of His promise of a deliverer. When their first son was born, there must have been great joy. And then there was another son. They must have reasoned that one these two sons, either Cain or Able, would have been the means (either immediately or ultimately) of fulfilling God's promise. Imagine the horror to discover that Can had, in fact, killed his brother Able (Genesis 4). How could the seed of the woman save mankind when one was killing the other? The righteous son was dead, the other son a killer. What hope did they have now of being delivered from Satan's grip? The doctrine of the depravity of man was one that was learned the hard way by Adam and Eve. In God's grace, He gave them another son, Seth (4:25), the means of the fulfillment of God's promise.

While Seth must have inspired hope in his parents, there seemed little room for optimism in Genesis chapter 6, because the whole race had become corrupt. Were it not for God sparing Noah and his family, the whole race would have been wiped out in the flood (Genesis 6-9). After the flood, flaws in the family of Noah inspire little hope for man's deliverance, apart from divine intervention. Righteous Noah gets drunk, and some of his family responded wrongly to this shameful incident (Genesis 9:20-27).

In the 11th chapter of Genesis fallen men conspire against God's command by building a tower and a city. When God confused man's language, nations were created in a new and different way. This has resulted in much of the contention and strife in the world ever since. Just as God promised to deliver man through the seed of Eve in Genesis chapter 3, He now promises to deliver the nations the seed of one man--Abraham:

Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house. To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:1-3).

There are various ways in which the nation Israel will prove to be a blessing to the nations (cf. Romans 9:3-5), but our interest is in the blessing which will come to the nations through the Messiah, who is now announced to come through the offspring of Abraham. Paul understood and taught that when God used the term "seed" in the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. also Genesis 13:15; 22:18), He was speaking specifically of the one "Seed," the Messiah:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your Seed," that is Christ (Galatians 3:16).

Early on, Abraham was successful in waging war with those kings who had captured his nephew, Lot (Genesis 14). Abraham turned down the spoils of war offered to him by pagan kings. When he met an unknown king, Melchizedek, he offered tithes to him. This Melchizedek was later identified as a type of Christ, a theme picked up in Psalm 110, and more fully explained in Hebrews chapter 5 (cf. vss. 6, 10) and 7.

Messianic hope must have run high in Abraham's heart and in the heart of the godly Israelite as he or she read of the promise of Messiah as one of Abraham's offspring. Later developments would certainly be the cause of some decline in hope. Abraham and Sarah were elderly, without a son, and with little hope of having one. Abraham unwisely took his wife's advice and had a son by Hagar, Sarai's handmaid. This son eventually had to be sent away. On several occasions Abraham was willing for his wife to be added to the harem of a pagan king,4 thus jeopardizing the possibility of the promised child being born to both he and Sarah.

God gave Abraham the supreme test of his faith, ordering him to sacrifice Isaac, the child on whom all of his future hopes were placed (Genesis 22). This scene of Abraham on the mountain, about to sacrifice his son, is a beautiful picture (a type) of God the Father and of Christ. Abraham is a type of the Father, who will, on Calvary, sacrifice His beloved and only Son. Isaac pictures the Son of God, who willingly and obediently, obeys the will of His Father, even unto death.

Passing from Isaac, we come to Jacob, Abraham's scheming grandson, the man whose name would be changed to Israel, and who would be the patriarch of the nation Israel. One finds Jacob a very unlikely candidate for such a calling. Most of his life was spent "wheeling and dealing." Only very late in life did Jacob evidence the kind of faith which the writer to the Hebrews found praiseworthy (Hebrews 11:21). Jacob's dream of the ladder ascending to heaven does point forward to Christ, as our Lord's words in John 1:51 will later indicate.

Humanly speaking, Jacob's sons were even more dubious so far as their ability to fulfill God's purposes and promises to Abraham. Reuben lay with Jacob's concubine (Genesis 35:22). Joseph's brothers were violent men. They dealt severely with the men of Shechem, action which caused Jacob to fear for the safety of his family (Genesis 34). These same men nearly killed Joseph and did sell him into slavery, with no compassion on either their own brother or father (Genesis 37). And Judah was willing to have inter into a sexual union with a woman he thought to be a cult prostitute (Genesis 38). These are not the kind of men which inspire confidence, especially in regard to the fulfillment of God's gracious promises. Nevertheless, it was of Judah that Jacob prophesied:

"Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father's sons shall bow down to you. Judah is a lion's whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, As a lion, who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples" (Genesis 49:10-12).

Israel's 400 year sojourn in Egypt proved to be God's solution to the problems which threatened her existence in Canaan. Nevertheless, new dangers arose in Egypt. When new Pharaoh came to power in Egypt (who knew not Joseph, Exodus 1:8), the ominous threat of genocide seemed to cloud Israel's future. An attempt was made to systematically exterminate the male Israelites (Exodus 1:15-16, 22). God providentially spared His people by using Pharaoh's daughter to set a precedent which overturned Pharaoh's decree. Moses, who was taken from the water by Pharaoh's daughter, became God's deliverer. By means of the plagues God brought upon Egypt, the Egyptians were defeated and the Israelites delivered from their bondage.

When the Law of Moses was given to the Israelites (Exodus 20ff.), it prescribed the conduct God required of Israel which would bring them God's blessing and which would manifest God's character to the nations. While the Israelites eagerly accepted God's laws, they could never live up to them. Had God not provided a sacrificial system to deal temporarily with Israel's sins (cf. Romans 3:25), God himself would have wiped out the nation. Indeed, in Exodus 32 it appeared momentarily that God would wipe Israel out and make a new nation from the offspring of Moses (cf. Exod. 32:9-10). The sacrificial system provided yet another picture of the Messiah, who would later be called "the lamb of God" (cf. John 1:29). The brazen serpent (Numbers 21:5ff.) provided yet another pentateuchal picture of the Messiah, one which would be taken up by our Lord (cf. John 3:14; 12:32).

Even a man who seemed to be a pagan prophet--Balaam--gave testimony of the coming Messiah:

"The oracle of him who hears the words of God, And knows the knowledge of the Most High, Who sees he vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, And a scepter shall rise from Israel, And crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir, it enemies, also shall be a possession; While Israel performs valiantly. One from Jacob shall have dominion, And shall destroy the remnant from the city" (Numbers 24:16-19).

Finally, in Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses was referred to as a prototype of Messiah:

"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him" (cf. also v. 16).

Messianic Hope
in the Period of Conquest

In the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, there is very little emphasis on the coming Messiah. In the Book of Ruth Boaz is a picture, a type, of Messiah, in his role of the kinsman redeemer (cp. Deuteronomy 25:5-10). Deliverers (judges) were raised up at times of need. These, however, appear to be exceptions to the rule. I believe this is due to the optimism of Israel at this point. God had promised Abraham a land, a seed, and a blessing. The seed and the blessing were a real hope, but Israel's entrance into the land of Canaan temporarily overshadowed the other aspects of God's promise to Abraham. It was only when Israel's hope of possessing the land was in question that the nation' attention turned back to the promise of the Messiah and the blessings He would bring.

Messianic Hope
in the Period of the United Kingdom

The Israelites wearied of judges and demanded to have a king, like the other nations:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, "Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations" (1 Samuel 8:4-5).

To the Israelites, this request had some biblical basis (cf. Deuteronomy 17:14-20) and it also had many practical benefits. They could have one person to lead them, as well as to represent them. Furthermore, if a dynasty was established, it would always be possible to know who would next be king (remember that there were various judges, each raised up by God at a time of crisis, but with no established pattern). Most importantly of all (in the minds of the people), they could be like everyone else if they had a king.

Not only was this request repugnant to Samuel, but to God. For all intents and purposes, Israel was rejecting God as her king, and wanted to install a man in His place:

And the Lord said to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day I brought them up from Egypt even to this day--in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods--so they are doing to you also" (1 Samuel 8:7-8).

For Israel, this request for a king was sin, it was a rejection of God. Nevertheless, God granted them a king and used this for His own purposes. Saul quickly proved to be a less-than-ideal king. He had great stature and bearing, but little character. God rejected him and replaced him with David, a man after His own heart. In one sense, David gave Israel a taste of what the ideal king could be. God did promise David that he would have an eternal throne:

"The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you. When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever" (2 Samuel 7:11b-16).

Immediately, the promise had to do with David's son, Solomon, and with future sons. As God's words indicate, this son would sin and would need chastening. The key word for us is the word "forever." This word indicates that God was a promising David that his throne (or dynasty) would be an eternal one. This would ultimately be fulfilled by Messiah, now designated to be of David's lineage. How exciting this must have been. Subsequent history will confirm that neither Solomon not his son, Rehaboam, would prove to be God's promised Messiah, but from this time on the Messiah is known as the "son of David" (cf. Luke 1:32; 2:4; 18:38).

Some of the most beautiful messianic promises written during the period of the united kingdom are found in the Psalms. Some come from the pen of David (e.g. Psalm 22, 110); another (72) was the work of Solomon. God spoke through the psalmists of Israel, foretelling the arrival of Messiah, the Israel's coming King.

Psalm 2 speaks of the Messiah as the One whom God will install as His King over Israel (v. 7). Messiah will be given the nations as His inheritance, and He will rule over those who seek to oppose Him (vss. 1-3, 8-9). The nations are thus urged to worship God now, or face the wrath of His coming King. In contrast,

Psalm 22 portrays the suffering of Messiah on the cross of Calvary. It begins with the words which our Lord quoted upon the cross, "My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?" thus identifying the Savior with the One whose sufferings are described in this Psalm.

Psalm 45 is written for the celebration of the king's marriage. It therefore focuses on the splendor and majesty of the coming King (vss. 3-6), and upon the fact that His throne is eternal (v. 6). The bride of the king loves righteousness and hates wickedness (the church?) and has been chosen by Him as His bride. The splendor and beauty of the bride is described as she has been prepared for her presentation to the King.

Psalm 72 depicts the reign of the Righteous King of Israel, who judges the people with righteousness and justice, and who vindicates the afflicted. He is the One who will answer the cries of the afflicted and will bring them deliverance.

Psalm 110 speaks of the installation of the Messiah at the right hand of God, who will rule over His enemies. Not only is He to rule as king, but He is also an eternal priest after the order of Melchizedek (v. 4). He will come to the earth to destroy His enemies.

Messianic Hope
in the Divided Kingdom

In the untied kingdom of Israel, as ruled by kings Saul, David, and Solomon, things were not perfect. Saul had to be removed (1 Samuel 15), David sinned greatly with regard to Uriah and his wife Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), and Solomon's reign ended pitifully (1 Kings 11). Things were destined to get worse, however. Solomon's son Rehaboam was so foolish as to listen to his peers, rather than to the wise counselors of his father. The result was that the united kingdom became two kingdoms: Israel, led by Jeroboam, and Judah, led by Rehaboam. Israel was led by kings who were consistently evil, while Judah's kings alternated between those who were good and those who were evil (cf. 1 Kings 12).

Elijah, Elisha, and Jonah were prophets to the northern kingdom of Israel. In their persons and work, each of these prophets anticipated the coming Messiah. Elijah was a type of John the Baptist, who was to prepare the way of the Lord (cf. Malachi 4:5-6; Luke 1:17; Matthew 17:9-13). Elisha typified the Lord, who came after Elijah, and who manifested even greater power in the Spirit than his predecessor. Jonah, the disobedient prophet typified both Israel in her disobedience and Messiah, in His death, burial and resurrection (cf. Matthew 12:38-41).

Among the prophets to the southern kingdom of Judah were Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah. Each of these prophets looked forward to the time when Judah would be driven from the land and taken captive in Babylon (cf. Jeremiah 25:8-11; Micah 3:12; Isaiah 3:1-26; 5:13-17). Jeremiah spoke of Messiah as the offspring of David who would reign as the "righteous Branch" (23:5), who would gather the scattered flock of Israel and restore righteousness and justice in the land. Micah, too, spoke of Israel's restoration, and the righteous reign of Messiah (chapter 4) who would be born in Bethlehem (5:2).

It is Isaiah, however, who has the most to say about Messiah. Through Isaiah, God has indicted Judah for her sin in chapters 1-5. The people still go through their religious rituals, but practice injustice and violence. They have no mercy or compassion on the helpless, the orphan and the widow (1:11-17). The nation is affluent (2:5ff.), but oppressive (3:13-15) and proud (3:16). Because of their sin, God is going to judge the nation, send them into exile (cf. 8:1-8), and later restore them (3:13--4:6). God will use the nations as instruments of judgment (cf. 8:1-8; 10:5; 13:1-22), but it will be the Messiah who will finally and fully deliver His people and restore them. The coming of Messiah is thus a prominent theme in the Book of Isaiah.

In chapter 7 the kings of Israel and Syria formed an alliance and attacked Jerusalem. Isaiah assured Ahaz that God would not allow these two "firebrands" to prevail. Although Ahaz would not ask for a sign, God proclaimed one:

"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken" (Isaiah 7:14-16).

The "sign" which God gave to Ahaz has a two-fold function. The first has to do with a son who will be born to a virgin, whose name will be Immanuel, and who will eat "curds and honey," at the time these two kings will be disposed of. From verse 22 we know that "curds and honey" is the food of prosperity and abundance, not of adversity. Had the siege been successful, the people of Jerusalem would have been starving. The child's birth may not have been supernatural, since the term "virgin" can also mean simply "maiden." It is therefore capable of at least two senses. In the first "sign" the boy seems to have been naturally born, but nevertheless a sign to the king, not so much in his birth, but in the food which he ate at the time the two kings were dispatched.

There was latent in this "sign" the makings of an even greater sign, for in time to come a virgin would supernaturally conceive and bear a son, and this son would be the evidence of God's final and full deliverance of His people once and for all. Only in the light of our Lord's birth would this "sign" be understood as such., thanks to Matthew's account (1:23).

In chapter 9, Isaiah turns from the judgment of Judah to her restoration, which will be accomplished by Messiah:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, Or the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:6-7).

This prophecy is especially significant for several reasons. First, it builds upon the promise of a virgin born Savior in chapter 7. A child, we are told will be born, a son will be given (v. 6). The humanity of the Messiah (something always assumed) is here maintained. Secondly, however, the claim is boldly made that this child who will be born is to be God incarnate. The name of the child is equated with His person, and His names are the names and the attributes of God. He is called "the Mighty God" and the "Eternal Father." In some way not yet fathomed by the human mind, the Messiah was to be both God and man. This God-man would sit upon the throne of David and would establish his kingdom, an eternal kingdom of justice and righteous.

This prophecy thus gathers up the elements of the previous messianic promises (such as the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7 and the messianic psalms) and adds to them the startling disclosure that the Messiah will be a God-man. How this prophecy must have been pondered by the minds of the godly Israelites of old.

In chapter 11 we are told that Messiah will be empowered by Holy Spirit and some of the manifestations of the Spirit's ministry are outlined:

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist (Isaiah 11:1-5).

In chapter 49 Messiah's work of restoring Israel is once again taken up, but another new dimension of His ministry is proclaimed:

And now says the Lord, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, in order that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the Lord, And My God is My strength), He says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, Princes shall also bow down; Because of the Lord who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You" (Isaiah 49:5-7).

Here we find the promise of the Messiah's salvation reaching even to the Gentiles. While this was implied in the Abrahamic Covenant ("And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed," Genesis 12:3), it is clearly stated in Isaiah's prophecy.

Finally, in those well-known prophecies of Isaiah 52 and Isaiah 53, the first coming of Christ and His substitutionary atonement are described in some of the most beautiful verses in all the word of God.5

Messianic Hope in the Exile

The years the Jews spent in exile were some of the darkest hours of the nation's history. The disobedient people of God experienced exactly what God had warned through the prophets. Nevertheless, God gave His people hope during this time by assuring them that He would restore His people to Himself and to their land. Once again, the Messiah was the central figure in Israel's hope for the future. Two prophets in particular, Ezekiel and Daniel, encouraged the nation by speaking comforting words about Israel's Messiah. Ezekiel spoke of Messiah as Israel's Shepherd:

Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken" (Ezekiel 34:23-24).

What better words could this scattered flock hear than the promise of Messiah as their Good Shepherd.

Daniel spoke to the nation in captivity as well. He described the second coming of the Messiah in terms of His majesty and splendor:

"I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations, and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed" (Daniel 7:13-14).

What greater hope could Israel have in her hour of judgment than to be given a vision of the coming of their king in glory and power, to establish an everlasting kingdom.

Messianic Hope
in the Post Exilic Period

Two prophets in particular, Zechariah and Malachi, spoke of Messiah to the Israelites who had returned to their land after their exile. God's Servant, the Branch was to be sent (Zechariah 3:8). Even some of the details of His coming were given:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).

Malachi foretold of the coming of John the Baptist, who would come to announce the arrival of the Messiah in the spirit of the prophet Elijah:

"Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 3:1, cf. also, vss. 2-3).

The broad outline of messianic promise, found in the Pentateuch, has been greatly filled in. We now know that Messiah will be of the Davidic line, virgin born in the city of Bethlehem, introduced by a prophet like Elijah, and presented to His people riding on the foal of a donkey.


There are several observations which we can make from our survey of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. First, we should note the persistent failure of men to meet the standards set for Messiah. No earthly king (including David and Solomon) came even close to being the kind of Messiah-king described in the messianic psalms. Whatever man might have been thought for the moment to have some claim to be Israel's Messiah failed miserably with time and scrutiny. Secondly, we should note the drama, the rise and fall of messianic hopes, based upon changing circumstances. From a human point of view it often looked as is Israel's messianic hopes were dashed on the rocks of reality. Third, we should note the faithfulness of God which resulted in further revelation regarding Messiah, so that new hope was given when men's faith began to wane. Fourth, we should observe that the revelation of Messiah's character and coming were progressively revealed, as is the case with other doctrines of Scripture. Finally, we can observe that the revelation of Messiah's coming included (perhaps even blended) his first coming to die for man's sins and his second coming, to reign over all creation.

What did the revelation of Messiah's coming, hundreds of years prior to its occurrence, mean to the ancient Israelite? Let us consider the meaning of the messianic hope for the Israelite of old before we consider its meaning for us.

First, the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament gave the ancients hope. Adam and Eve, because of the promise of Messiah, had hope, even in the midst of their fallenness and the curse which they had to bear. The same could be said for everyone who followed them and who sinned, which is, of course, everyone.

Second, the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament were the basis for the believer's faith, and thus the substance of the "gospel" of the Old Testament. As one reads the 11th chapter of the Book of Hebrews it is apparent that prophecy is the basis of the faith of those saints of old. Messianic prophecy is the core of all prophecy. Thus, our Lord could say, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56).

Third, the messianic prophecies served as a standard for the conduct of the Old Testament saint. The messianic prophecies did not deal exclusively with the circumstances of Messiah's coming (e.g., being virgin born, born in Bethlehem), but instead emphasized the character of Messiah and the nature of His righteous rule. When the prophets spoke of the righteousness of Messiah, who would rescue the oppressed, care for the afflicted, and judge the evildoer impartially, this was both an indictment of Israel's wickedness and a standard for her conduct. Many of the very things which Messiah was promised to do in the future, the Israelites were instructed to do in their own day. Thus, the descriptions of Messiah were given as a model and as a motivation for godly conduct on the part of those who looked for His coming. The same emphasis is found in the New Testament:

Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless (2 Peter 3:11-14).

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).

Fourth, the messianic prophecies provided much of the substance for the godly Israelite's worship. The messianic psalms were not just a description of the Messiah for Israel to know about in advance. They were descriptions of Messiah so that He could be God could be worshipped more precisely. In my opinion, the Old Testament saint not only "saw" Messiah, but they worshipped Him.

For those who were fortunate enough to be living at the time of Messiah's advent, the messianic prophecies enabled them to recognize the Christ child as Messiah and to worship Him. Some of the prophecies concerning Messiah, such as His virgin birth and being born in Bethlehem, would help the true believer to recognize the Christ child as Messiah, even in spite of conditions which may appear contradictory (who would have expected the Christ to have been born in a stable, in conditions of poverty?).

Perhaps even more than this, the messianic prophecies would enable those who were led to the Christ child to worship Him as they should. It would have been very easy to misunderstand the mission of this "babe in a manger." How, for example, would foreign dignitaries have known to worship Him as Israel's king apart from the biblical revelation of Messiah as Israel's King? The worth and work of Messiah, as revealed by the Old Testament messianic prophecies were the basis for the worship of the babe in the manger. He was worshipped not so much for what men saw in Him at that moment, but what the Scriptures said of Him and of His mission. Thus, the Scriptures guided men in their worship of Messiah at His birth.

In conclusion, let us consider what the Old Testament messianic prophecies mean to New Testament Christians.

First of all, the fact that many of the messianic prophecies have already been fulfilled, down to the last detail, assures us of the accuracy, faithfulness, and reliability of the Word of God. If all of the prophecies pertaining to the first coming of Christ were fulfilled precisely, we have every reason to believe that the remaining prophecies will also be fulfilled. In a slightly different context, Peter's words apply:

"And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19).

Secondly, the messianic prophecies provide us with God's word about the future, which is the basis for our faith and hope. We must remember that roughly half of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament are still awaiting fulfillment. Just as the promise of Messiah's coming, to judge the wicked and to establish His kingdom in righteousness, was the basis for the faith and hope of the Old Testament saint, so it is for the New Testament saint. The closing words of the New Testament look forward to the Messiah's return, as foretold in the Old Testament:

He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming quickly." Amen, Come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20).

In the darkest days of history there is no brighter hope, no more encouraging word than that of the nearness of Messiah's coming.

Finally, let me suggest that the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament should serve to balance and guide our worship of the Lord Jesus at this Christmas season. Quite frankly, we need to beware of worshipping our Lord according to a "Christmas card theology." We worship the "babe in the manger" in a way quite different from that of those first worshippers of whom we read in the gospels.

As I look at the description of the worship of the Christ child in the gospel accounts, I find that they worshipped the Messiah in terms of what He would do. They did not separate His redemption of men on the tree at Calvary from His reigning over all men on His throne. Some would say that this is because the two comings of Christ were not yet understood at this time. I would agree, but I would also protest that we have made so much of a distinction between the two that we fail to see how intertwined they are in Scripture. I believe that when we worship at Christmas we must worship the Christ who came to suffer and to forgive and the Christ who came to judge and to rule. It is not two Christs, but One. Let us remember this Christmas that the manger was also the "Mighty God," "the Eternal Father," and the "Prince of Peace."

It is not nearly so difficult for men to adore a babe in a manger than to bow in reverence to a holy and righteous King, who will reign in righteousness and justice. Yet this is who the Christ child is.

1 For example, the text in Hosea 11:1, "Out of Egypt I called My son," would not have been thought of as a messianic prophecy, and yet Matthew (2:15) interprets it as such.

2 It has been rightly pointed out that in Genesis chapter 2, verses 1-3, it is not man who is featured as the crown of creation, but God's rest. The point still remains, however, that among God's creatures man is the crown of creation.

3 Cf. Matthew 6:13; John 8:44; 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 17:15.

4 We read of two incidents in Genesis in which Adraham lied in representing Sarah as his sister, and thus eligible to become the wife of the king (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). In the latter case, however, Abraham's explanation to Abimelech (v. 13) suggested that this policy of representing Sarah as his sister was one that was routinely used, thus making these two of what could have been numerous misrepresentations (thus perhaps frequently endangering the fulfillment of God's promise).

5 Consult the Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985), Old Testament, p. 1049, for a listing of the many messianic prophecies of Isaiah.

Related Topics: Christology, Dispensational / Covenantal Theology, Soteriology (Salvation)

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