How were details of Christ’s death prophesied?

Christ’s “cut off” Predicted in detail by the Old Testament Prophets

In our last post we saw that Daniel had predicted that the ‘Christ’ would be ‘cut off’ after a specified cycle of years. This prediction of Daniel’s was fulfilled in the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem – there presented as Israel’s Christ – exactly 173 880 days after the Persian Decree to restore Jerusalem was issued. The phrase ‘cut off’ alluded to Isaiah’s imagery of the Branch shooting up from the seemingly dead stump. But what did he mean by it?

Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

Isaiah had also written other prophecies in his book, using other themes apart from that of the Branch. One such theme was that of the coming Servant. Who was this ‘Servant’? What was he going to do? We look at one long passage in detail. I reproduce it exactly and in full here below, only inserting some comments of my own.

The Coming Servant. The complete passage from Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

We know that this Servant will be a human man because Isaiah refers to the Servant as a ‘he’, ‘him’, ‘his’, and that this is specifically looking forward in time, (from the phrases ‘will act..’, ‘will be raised up…’ and so on) so that this is an explicit prophecy. But what was it a prophecy about?

When the Jewish priests offered sacrifices for the Israelites they would sprinkle them with blood from the sacrifice – symbolizing that their sins were covered and would not be held against them. But here it says that the Servant will sprinkle ‘many nations’, so Isaiah is saying that in a similar way this Servant will also provide non-Jews for their sins like the Old Testament priests did for the Jewish worshipers. This parallels the prediction of Zechariah that the Branch would be a priest, uniting the roles of King and Priest, since only the priests could sprinkle blood. This global scope of ‘many nations’ follows those historical and verifiable promises made centuries beforehand to Abraham of ‘all nations’ being blessed through his offspring.

But in sprinkling the many nations the very ‘appearance’ and ‘form’ of the Servant is predicted to be ‘disfigured’ and ‘marred’. And though it is not readily clear what the Servant will do, one day the nations ‘will understand’.

53 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He [The Servant] grew up before him [The LORD] like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Though the Servant would sprinkle many nations, he would also be ‘despised’ and ‘rejected’, full of ‘suffering’ and ‘familiar with pain’.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

The Servant will take ‘our’ pain. This Servant will also be ‘pierced’ and ‘crushed’ in ‘punishment’. This punishment will bring us (those in the many nations) ‘peace’ and heal us.

I write this on Good Friday. Secular as well as biblical sources tell us that on this day about 2000 years ago (but still 700+ years after Isaiah wrote this prediction) that Jesus was crucified. In doing that he was literally pierced, as Isaiah predicted the Servant would be pierced, with the nails of the crucifixion.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

We saw in Corrupted … missing the target, that a biblical definition of sin is missing the intended target. Like a bent arrow we go our ‘own way’.  This Servant will carry that same sin (iniquity) that we have brought forth.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth

The Servant will be like a lamb going to the ‘slaughter’. But he will not protest or even ‘open his mouth’. We saw in the Sign of Abraham that a ram that substituted for Abraham’s son. That ram – a sheep – was slaughtered. And Jesus was slaughtered on the same spot (Mount Moriah = Jerusalem). We saw in the Passover that a lamb was slaughtered on Passover – as Jesus was also slaughtered on Passover.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.

This Servant is ‘cut off’ from the ‘land of the living’. This is exactly the term Daniel used when he predicted what would happen to the Christ after he was presented to Israel as their Messiah. Isaiah predicts in more detail that ‘cut off’ means ‘cut off from the land of the living’ – i.e. death!  So, on that fateful Good Friday Jesus died, being literally ‘cut off from the land of the living’, just a few days after being presented as the Messiah in his Triumphant entry.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Though Jesus was executed and died as a criminal (‘assigned a grave with the wicked’), the gospel writers tell us that a rich man of the ruling Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea, took the body of Jesus and buried him in his own tomb (Matthew 19:60). Jesus literally fulfilled both sides of the paradoxical prediction that though he would be ‘assigned a grace with the wicked’, he would also be ‘with the rich in his death’.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand

This whole cruel death was not some terrible accident or misfortune. It was explicitly “the LORD’s will” to crush him. But why? Just as lambs in the Mosaic sacrificial system were offerings for sin so that the person giving the sacrifice could be held blameless, here the ‘life’ of this Servant is also an ‘offering for sin’. For whose sin? Well considering that ‘many nations’ would be ‘sprinkled’ (above) it is the sin of the peoples in the ‘many nations’. Those ‘all’ who have ‘turned away’ and ‘gone astray’. Isaiah is talking about you and me.

11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Though the passage of the Servant is gruesome here it changes tone and becomes very optimistic and even triumphant. After this terrible suffering (of being ‘cut off from the land of the living’ and assigned ‘a grave’), this Servant will see ‘the light of life’. He will come back to life?! I have looked at the issue of the resurrection. But here it is predicted. It is a vanishingly diminishing probability that the same man whose resurrection one can make a case for is the same person for whom it is predicted – along with these other predictions we have reviewed.

And in so ‘seeing the light of life’ this Servant will ‘justify’ many. To ‘justify’ is the same as giving ‘righteousness’. Remember that Abraham was ‘credited’ or given ‘righteousness’. In a similar way this Servant will justify, or credit, righteousness to ‘many’.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

The passage of the Servant points so uncannily to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that some critics argue that the gospel narratives were essentially made up to ‘fit’ this Servant passage. But in his conclusion Isaiah defies these critics. The conclusion is not a prediction of the crucifixion and resurrection per se, but of the impact of this death many years after it. And what does Isaiah predict? This Servant, though he will die as a criminal, will one day be among the ‘great’. The gospel writers could not make this part ‘fit’ the gospel narratives since the gospels were only written a few decades after Jesus’ crucifixion – when the impact of Jesus’ death was still in doubt.  Jesus was still the executed leader of a ‘pernicious superstition’ in the esteem of the world when the gospels were penned.  We sit now 2000 years later and see the impact of his death and realize how through the course of history this has made him ‘great’. The gospel writers could not have foreseen that. But Isaiah did. The Servant, also known as the Branch, through his voluntary sacrifice would begin to draw people to him – to worship him even – just as Jesus decreed would happen when he called unabashedly himself the ‘Son of Man’ at his trial before the Sanhedrin, and in so doing they would also find salvation.

The Branch: Sprouting Exactly in time to be … ‘cut off’

We have been exploring the Branch theme that extends through the writings of several of the Old Testament prophets. We saw that Jeremiah in 600 BC had picked up the theme begun by Isaiah 150 years earlier in declaring that this Branch would be a King. In our previous post we saw that Zechariah, following from Jeremiah predicted that this Branch would be named Jesus and that he would combine the roles of King and Priest into one – something that had never occurred previously in Israelite history.

Daniel’s riddle of the scheduled arrival of the Anointed One

But it did not end there. Daniel, sandwiched in time between Jeremiah and Zechariah, directly picked up the title of ‘Anointed One’ (which we saw here = ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah), at the same time alluding to the Branch theme in a fascinating riddle that predicted when the Messiah would be revealed. Around 538 BC he wrote the following:

“From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler comes, there will be seven ‘sevens’ and sixty-two ‘sevens’. … After the sixty-two ‘sevens’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing…” (Daniel 9:25-26)

Since Anointed One = Christ = Messiah, as we saw here, we know that Daniel was writing about the coming Christ. Daniel specifies a start time (“issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem”) and a specific time interval (“seven ‘sevens’ and sixty-two ‘sevens’”) which will culminate in the revealing of the Christ (= Anointed One) who will then mysteriously be ‘cut off’. The overall structure of this prediction seems clear enough. But can we understand the specifics so that we can actually track this revealing of the Christ? Let’s begin by looking at what triggered the ticking of this prophetic clock.

The Issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem

About 100 years after Daniel, Nehemiah was cupbearer to the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes. As such he was a man who had access to the very highest power in the Persian Empire. In that context he asks for and receives a royal decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. Here is how he states it.

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes… I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.’…

7 I also said to him, ‘If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors …”. [And] the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors … and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me. (Nehemiah 2:1-9)

So here we see a royal decree, backed with letters and the military of the Persian Empire to rebuild and restore Jerusalem. Since the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes is known in secular history, and since this decree specifies the start of this period in terms of Artaxerxes’ reign (20th year of reign in the month of Nisan), we can determine when this was. Artaxerxes ascended to the Persian throne immediately after the death of his father Xerxes in December 465 BC. (1) and since this decree was issued in Nisan 1 (March/April) of his 20th year this would put the issuing of the decree at March 5, 444 BC (1).

Seven ‘Sevens’ and Sixty-two ‘Sevens’

But what are these ‘sevens’ that Daniel was using to track the passing of time? In the Law of Moses there was a cycle of seven years whereby the land was to be rested from agricultural cultivation every seventh year. It was stated in the following way

When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. (Leviticus 25:2-3)

The context of Daniel’s statement is ‘years’, and using this line of reasoning, by ‘sevens’ he is writing along these cycles of seven years. In that case the Seven ‘Sevens’ and Sixty-two ‘Sevens’ can be stated arithmetically as (7+62) * 7 = 483 years.

A 360-Day year

Complicating things somewhat is the length of year used. Today we use the solar year (=365.24219879 days per year) because we can precisely measure the revolution of the earth around the sun. In those days it was common to base the year from revolutions of the moon (as the Islamic calendar does still today) giving 354 days/year or by using 12 30-day months giving 360 days per year. In all cases there is some adjusting done to ‘fix up’ the differences in revolutions. (In our Western calendar we use the leap year – 366 days – to adjust for the fractional day, with some leap years being skipped.) In ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian and Greek civilizations a 360 day calendar was common. This seems to be the basis for these years in Daniel. Further reasons for using a 360 day year are given here.

The Scheduled Arrival of the Christ

With this background information it is now fairly simple to calculate when the Christ was to arrive as per Daniel’s riddle. 483 years with 360 days/year will give us:

483 years * 360 days/year = 173 880 days

In terms of our Western calendar this would give us 476 solar years with 25 days left over. (173 880/365.24219879 = 476 with 25 as remainder)

The start point for this calculation was Artaxerxes’ decree which was issued on March 5, 444 BC. Adding 476 solar years to this date brings us to March 5, 33 AD. (There is no year 0, the calendar going from 1BC to 1 AD in one year so arithmetically it is -444 + 476 +1= 33).

If we now take the 25 remaining days and add them to March 5, 33 AD we come to March 30, 33 AD, illustrated in the timeline below. Or as Hoehner (whose calculations I have been following) states

“By adding 25 days to March 5 (444 BC) one comes to March 30 (33 AD), which was Nisan 10. This was the day of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem…

Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ Part VI, pg. 16 1977

The Timeline of Daniel's prophecy of 'sevens' culminating in Jesus Triumphant entry

The Timeline of Daniel’s prophecy of ‘sevens’ culminating in Jesus Triumphant entry


Triumphant Entry of Jesus – That Day

Today as I write this post, it is Palm Sunday, the very day we remember the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Making the assumptions that we have done above and using some basic arithmetic we find that this is the day that Daniel’s riddle of the ‘sevens’ lands us on. This is the day that Jesus was presented as the King or Christ to the Jewish nation. We know this because Zechariah (who had predicted the name of the Christ) had also written that:

Rejoice greatly! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

The long awaited King would be revealed riding into Jerusalem on a colt with an attending crowed of shouting and rejoicing people. On the day of the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem – that very same day predicted by Daniel in his riddle of the ‘sevens’ – Jesus did ride into Jerusalem on a colt. Luke records the account.

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’…

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:37-42)

In this account Jesus weeps because the people did not recognize the very day predicted in tandem by Zechariah and Daniel. But because they did not recognize this day that the Christ was revealed something totally unexpected would happen. Daniel, in the very same passage where he laid out the riddle of the ‘sevens’, predicted that:

… After the sixty-two ‘sevens’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing…” (Daniel 9:26)

Instead of taking the throne to rule, the Christ would be ‘cut off’ and would have ‘nothing’. In using this phrase ‘cut off’ (some Bibles just translate it ‘will die’) Daniel alludes to that theme of the Branch, that shoot from the stump of Jesse, begun long before by Isaiah, elaborated by Jeremiah, the name predicted by Zechariah and now the time and signature foreseen by Daniel and Zechariah in tandem. This Branch would be ‘cut off’. But how would this Branch be ‘cut off’? We return to Isaiah in our next post to see a vivid description.

1) Reference used throughout is Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ
Part VI: Harold W. Hoehner

How was Jesus’ name prophesied long before his birth?

Sign of the Branch Part 2: The Branch named ‘Jesus’ hundreds of years beforehand

In Part 1 we saw how Isaiah started a theme using the image of The Branch. Someone coming from the fallen dynasty of David, possessing wisdom and power was predicted by Isaiah to come. Jeremiah followed on this theme by stating that this Branch would be known as the LORD (ie as in the Old Testament personal name for God) himself.

Zechariah continues The Branch

zechariah in historical old testament timelineZechariah lived 520 BC, just after the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem from their first expulsion into Babylon, but while they were being ruled by the Persians. At that time the Jewish people were working to rebuild their destroyed temple and re-institute the Mosaic religious system. Zechariah’s contemporary was a man named Joshua, who was High Priest at that time, and was working to re-start the whole priestly system. Zechariah the prophet was working in tandem with his colleague Joshua the High Priest to provide leadership for the Jewish people. Here is what the LORD – through Zechariah- in a prophetic riddle, said of this Joshua:

‘”Listen O High Priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch. See the stone I have set in front of Joshua!” …, says the LORD Almighty, “and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”.’ (Zechariah 3:8-9)

The Branch! Again! Building on the image started by Isaiah about 200 years before, and continued by Jeremiah 60 years earlier, Zechariah picks up this theme of ‘The Branch’. But this time the Branch is also called ‘my servant’.  In some way the High Priest Joshua in Jerusalem at 520BC, colleague of Zechariah, was symbolic of this coming Branch, but in what way? It says that in ‘a single day’ the sins will be removed by the LORD (“I will remove…”). This connects with obtaining ‘righteousness’ noted in the previous post. We will gain ‘righteousness’ by having the LORD remove our sins ‘in a single day’. How will that happen?

The Branch: Uniting Priest with King

We continue on three chapters in Zechariah and learn something astounding. To understand the following prophetic riddle, we need to know that the roles of Priest and King were strictly separated in the Old Testament. None of the Davidic Kings could be priests (some of them got into trouble by trying), and conversely, some of the priests got in trouble by dabbling in kingly intrigue. The job of the priest was to mediate between God and man by offering animal sacrifices to God for forgiveness of sins, and the job of the King was to rule with justice from the throne. Both were crucial; both were distinct. Yet Zechariah wrote that in the future:

‘The word of the LORD came to me: “…Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest Joshua. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says, ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD… and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two’’ (Zechariah 6:9-13)

Once again our Branch is here. But now, against all previous precedence, the high priest in Zechariah’s day (Joshua) is to (symbolically) put on the kingly crown. Remember that in Zechariah 3 (above) Joshua was ‘symbolic of things to come’. Could it be that Joshua, the High Priest, in putting on the crown was ‘symbolic’ of a coming merger of the Kingly and Priestly roles? Into one person? And notice that Joshua, his very name, is the name of the Branch. What did that mean?

The name ‘Joshua’ IS the name ‘Jesus’

To understand this we need to review how the Old Testament was translated through history. I have written how around 250 BC the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek. This translation is today still in use and is called the Septuagint (or LXX). We saw that the title ‘Christ’ was first used in this Greek translation, and that ‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’. (If you do not follow this please review here since this is crucial to what will follow).

'Joshua' = 'Jesus'. Both come from the Hebrew name 'Yhowshuwa'

‘Joshua’ = ‘Jesus’. Both come from the Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’

In exactly the same way we can follow the derivations of the name ‘Joshua’. As you can see in the figure above Joshua is an English transliteration of the original Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’ which was a common Hebrew name that meant ‘Jehovah saves’.  This (shown in Quadrant #1) is how Zechariah wrote his name in 520 BC.  This word was transliterated to ‘Joshua’ when the Old Testament was rendered into English (bottom half labelled #3). The translators of the LXX in 250 BC also transliterated that name when they translated the Old Testament into Greek. Their Greek transliteration was Iesous (Quadrant #2). Thus ‘Yhowshuwa’ of the Old Testament was called Iesous in the LXX. Jesus would have been called Yhowshuwa by his contemporaries but when the New Testament writers wrote his name in the Greek New Testament, they used the familiar ‘Iesous’ of the LXX. When the New Testament was rendered from the Greek to English ‘Iesous’ was transliterated (again) to our well-known ‘Jesus’ (bottom half labelled #3). Thus the name ‘Jesus’ = ‘Joshua’. Both Jesus of the New Testament, and Joshua the High Priest of 520BC were called ‘Yhowshuwa’ in their native Hebrew. In Greek, both names were ‘Iesous’. A Greek reader of the Old Testament LXX would recognize the name of Iesous (Jesus) as a familiar name in the Old Testament. We lose that ready connection since the name ‘Jesus’ appears out of the blue as it were.  But the name Jesus does have an Old Testament equivalent – Joshua.

Jesus of Nazareth is the Branch of Isaiah, Jeremiah & Zechariah

But now that we know this context, the prophecy of Zechariah should hit us like a bolt of lightning. Here we see a prediction, made in 520 BC, that the name of the coming Branch will be ‘Jesus’! When I saw this, I just had to sit up and take notice. This was just too ‘coincidental’ for me. Here was (and still is) a prophecy which named the coming Branch, and the name points directly to Jesus of Nazareth.

And this coming Jesus, according to Zechariah, would merge the roles of King and Priest. What was it again that the priests did? On behalf of the people they offered animal sacrifices to God for their forgiveness of sins. Just like Abraham did with his sacrifice on Mount Moriah, and Moses with the Passover lamb sacrifice, the priest covered the sins of the people through animal sacrifice. The coming ‘Jesus’ was going to perform a similar role so that the LORD could ‘remove the sin of this land in a single day’ – the day that this coming Priest Jesus would offer himself as a sacrifice, already pictured in the place of Mount Moriah and the time of year at the Passover. Sometime after fulfilling that role as Priest, this Branch Jesus would take up his throne (as per Psalm 2) and would thus be ‘a Priest on his throne’ – as stated exactly, precisely and verifiably by Zechariah about 500 years before Jesus walked this earth.

This interconnected degree of prophetic foretelling is nothing short of fantastic. Can you think of anyone else in all of history whose life was even as remotely foretold as Jesus of Nazareth’s was by the diverse Old Testament prophets? Zechariah’s naming of the Branch to be Jesus evades all the conspiracy theories of critics like Spong and Ehrman (who argue that the gospel writers made things up to fit the Old Testament) since the name of ‘Jesus’ of Nazareth is recorded outside the gospels. The Jewish Talmud, Josephus and all other writers about Jesus, both friend and foe, have always referred to him as ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’. I think that the only option open to us, if we do not accept this as a bona fida prophetic sign, is to ignore it and hope others do too. I have read plenty of critics like Spong and Ehrman who try to rationalize away the Old Testament prophecies in one way or another. They all just ignore this set of Branch prophecies.

Now I suppose they could rationalize that ‘Jesus’ was a reasonably common Jewish name, there certainly were other Jesus’s in Jewish history, so the name coincidence could possibly be due to chance. But let us think through the career of this Jesus of Nazareth. He certainly, as we saw, claimed to be a king; The King in fact. But everything that he accomplished while on earth was in fact priestly. The job of the priest was to take a lamb on behalf of the worshiping Jewish person, offer it to God, kill it, and the death and blood of that lamb would atone for the sin and guilt of that Jewish person. Even a superficial knowledge of the significance of the death of Jesus was that, it also, was an offering to God, on our behalf. His death atones for the sin and guilt for any willing person. The sins of the land were literally removed ‘in a single day’ – the day Jesus died. In his life he alluded to his coming role as King while fulfilling all the requirements as Priest. He has brought harmony and unity to the two roles. The Branch, the one that David long ago called the ‘Messiah’, is in fact the Priest-King.

So exploring the theme of the Branch through the Old Testament should fill us with wonder. But it does not end there. Another Old Testament writer, sandwiched between Jeremiah and Zechariah in history predicted the time of his coming. We will look at that next time.