Was Jesus Really the Messiah?
The Christmas season provides a wonderful time for many Christians to evaluate their faith and an opportunity for those who are not Christians to explore what the Bible has to say about God, faith, and Jesus the Messiah. Matthew's Gospel is an excellent place to begin an exploration. This Gospel includes one of the two narratives of Jesus' birth. Matthew appears to be written to a predominantly Jewish Christian community. The author goes to great lengths to show that Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies found in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The Gospel of Matthew provides an excellent jumping off point to examine some of the Messianic prophecies. The first prophecy that Matthew mentions is found in Matthew 1:20-24. This refers to the prophecy found in the prophet Isaiah 7:14 and emphasizes the fact that the Messiah will be born of a virgin. Both Matthew and Luke's Gospels emphasize the fact that Mary was a virgin whom God chose to give birth to Jesus.
This idea of the virgin birth was as shocking in the first century as it would be today. There was a stigma attached to Mary's pregnancy that both she and Jesus had to live with for the rest of their lives. The Old Testament contains at least one more prophecy related to the virgin birth. Most scholars understand Genesis 3:15 as the very first Messianic prophecy. This verse contains God's judgment of the serpent who had induced Eve and Adam to sin in the Garden of Eden. What is interesting about this passage is that God said He would place enmity between the woman's offspring and the serpent's. The Hebrew word for "offspring" is actually the word where the word "seed" or "sperm" comes from. As anyone who has had a biology or sex education class knows, the seed or sperm is produced by the male, not the woman. Here, God seems to be looking ahead to the day when a woman would have the Seed of God placed within her and this Seed would be the one Who would ultimately destroy the serpent and his kingdom.
The second prophecy that Matthew records is found in 2:4-7. This prophecy predicted where the Messiah would be born, as recorded in Micah 5:2. Both Matthew and Luke's Gospels show Jesus being born in Bethlehem. The prophecy that Matthew quotes from Micah is one of the strongest Old Testament Messianic prophecies. Not only does it predict where the Messiah would be born, it also refers to the Messiah as the One, "whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." There was not a clear understanding in the Old or New Testaments that the promised Messiah would be divine. This passage appears to make that point.
Matthew 2:13-15 contains the next Messianic prophecy. This passage refers to Joseph taking Mary and the baby Jesus and fleeing to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. The Old Testament passage quoted is Hosea 11:1: "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." This passage poses a problem, however, because it is clear that Hosea was referring to Israel and not the Messiah. In light of the totality of Jesus' ministry, though, it becomes obvious that Jesus saw Himself as the embodiment of Israel. In a very real sense, He was the new Israel, seeking to fulfill God's plans for His people.
While Matthew mentions many other prophecies in his Gospel, a look at one more should suffice for this discussion. In 8:14-17 the author discusses Jesus healing ministry and quotes Isaiah 53:4. The entire chapter of Isaiah 53 is clearly a strong Messianic prophecy. For Matthew's purpose, however, he only quotes a short passage to show that physical healing was going to be part of the Messiah's ministry. In Jesus' earthly ministry, Jesus performed many miraculous physical and spiritual healings. It is clear that He also expected His followers to do these same works because He sent them out with instructions to do them.
Most scholars number between three and four hundred Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Each of the four Gospels, lists and enumerates some of these. Matthew's Gospel, however, contains more of these than do Mark, Luke, or John. This study has only highlighted a few of them but they should be enough to help the reader get started who wants to pursue a closer study of the Messianic prophecies.
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