Jesus came in the manner of God’s king, the Messiah, and he came in such a way that his birth, life, death and resurrection fulfilled all that had been foretold of him by the Old Testament prophets. It’s simply not possible to overemphasize the importance of the prophetic fulfillments in proving that Jesus is the Christ.
The basis for this method of testing the Messianic claim is biblical. It’s laid down in Isaiah 41, starting with verse 21: 21 “Present your case,” says the LORD. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. 22 “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, 23 tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods.
So the litmus test for God’s truth is something like this: if you can tell me with certainty who will play in the Super Bowl in 2050, who will win, and who will score each touchdown in each quarter, then when it comes to pass I will believe that you are God.
And so if Jesus is to be God’s king, the Messiah, he’s got to control both the past and the future: the past in making sure that the prophecies are correctly written down, and the future in making sure that the prophecies are fulfilled. So the birth, death and resurrection have got to be controlled in such a a way that they fulfill all prophecy.
Do you know how hard it would have been to hit tiny little Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Christ? The prophecy of this is in Micah 5:2: 2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” For Micah to say it 600 years prior to it happening, and for Jesus to be born there is beyond improbable. But it happened, and as such it fulfilled what was written.
And if you’re the Christ, you have also got to fulfill what was written about your death. A compelling prophecy of this is Psalm 22. Let me just point out a few verses, starting at verse 16: 16 Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. 17 I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
This was written some 1,000 years before Christ came, and long before the Phoenicians and the Romans even conceived of crucifixion. Yet there it is, and as such it was fulfilled. And because of these things, as we read in Isaiah 41:23 we can know with certainty that he is God.
This is where Mathew places the emphasis as he begins his account of Jesus’ life. He portrays the birth of Jesus as being the fulfillment of messianic prophecy. Looking at Mathew 1, we find that Mathew begins his account of the coming of Christ with a genealogical record of Jesus’ lineage tying him back to Abraham through David. This was important because prophecies foretold that the Messiah would come from David’s line.
One such prophecy, which specifically names David’s father, Jesse, can be found in Isaiah 11:1: A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD –
Then, after having laid out the genealogical evidence, Mathew proceeds to tell an abbreviated tale of the birth with no manger or shepherds. But he does record the visit of an angel to Joseph, telling him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. And he refers to this event as the fulfilment of another prophecy, in verses 22 and 23: 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23″The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
That’s a direct reference to Isaiah 7:14: 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Then, looking at Chapter 2, Mathew goes straight to 1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea… He skips right over the birth, and instead records in detail the visit of the Magi. So for Mathew, the coming of Jesus wasn’t about no room at the inn, a manger and shepherds. It was about God’s king, the Messiah, coming into the world.
And as we approach Luke’s gospel account we also find references to Jesus’ birth being the fulfillment of messianic prophecy. Luke’s account is the most complete narrative of the Christmas story as we know and celebrate it, and that’s in keeping with Luke’s method as a historian. But there is so much more going on here than just the nativity story.
Luke includes an important little phrase in Luke 1:1, in which he is explaining the purpose of his Gospel. He says that he is writing about the things that have been fulfilled among us. That word “fulfilled” is yet another reference to Jesus being the fulfillment of prophecy.
And what’s interesting about Luke is that he begins his Gospel with a prophetic fulfillment that rips the page dividing the Old and New Testaments right out of the Bible. It’s as if he’s saying there is complete continuity; that in spite of the 400 years dividing the two testaments, God’s picking the story back up exactly where he left off and is moving on.
At the very end of the Old Testament, on the very last page, we find Malachi 4:5-6: 5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
Then turning to Luke 1:17 we read, 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke is speaking here of John the Baptist.
So not only was Jesus the fulfillment of prophecy, but as we see here, John the Baptist was also predicted and fulfilled. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s right there for the whole world to see, and it’s there as Luke says in Luke 1:4, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
And so what we are celebrating when we celebrate Christmas is that God’s King, the Messiah, came into the world just as he was promised to us by God. His coming was predicted for us in the Old Testament, and it is proven for us in the historic accounts of the New Testament.
In our next and final installment of this series, we will shift gears yet again and consider what came into the world when Jesus was born, as we look at the coming of Christ as John’s “Word made flesh.” But to end this installment, I’d simply like to share with you my favorite (contemporary) Christmas song. If you will listen to the lyrics, you will find it has a lot to say about Jesus being the fulfillment of prophecy, why it matters, and how we should regard it. And if I haven’t said it thus far, Merry Christmas!