A Funny Gaffe – fit for a Good Friday

The puzzle of Psalm 22

Jesus on crossA few years ago a friend and work colleague, J, wandered over to my desk. J was smart and educated – and definitely not a believer in the gospel. He was skeptical but somewhat curious which gave rise to some warm and open conversations between us. He had never really looked at the Bible so I encouraged him now and then to give it a go.

One day he came into my office with a Bible to show me that he was indeed taking a look. He had opened it randomly in the middle. I asked him what he was reading. I remember our conversation going something like this.

“I am reading in Psalm chapter 22”, he said (pronouncing the ‘P’ in Psalm).

“Really”, I said. “It is pronounced salm – without the ‘p’. Any idea what you are reading about?”

“I guess I am reading about the crucifixion of Jesus”, J replied.

“That’s a good guess”, I laughed. “But you are about one thousand years off. Psalm 22 was written by David around 1000 BC. Jesus’ crucifixion was in 30’s CE.”

J was not familiar with the books in the Bible and did not realize that the Psalms were not the accounts of Jesus’ life by his contemporaries. He had only heard some stories about Jesus, including his crucifixion, and randomly opening his Bible he stumbled on something that, from his perspective, seemed to describe the crucifixion, and not knowing any better, he just assumed it was the story of the crucifixion. He had made a little gaffe – an error- in his first Bible reading exercise. We had a chuckle over his first mis-step in Bible exegesis.

Then I asked J what he saw in Psalm 22 that made him think he was reading about the crucifixion of Jesus. Thus began our little on-the-spot investigative study. I invite you to consider some of the similarities we noticed by placing the passages side-by-side in a table. To help I have color matched the texts that are similar.

Comparison of Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion with the details in Psalm 22

Crucifixion details from the Gospels Psalm 22 – written 1000 BC
(Matthew 27: 31-48) ..Then they led him (Jesus) away to crucify him…. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “… save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him,…About the ninth hour Jesus cried…“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” …48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.Mark 15: 16-2016 The soldiers led Jesus away… They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him…37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.(JOHN 19:34) they did not break his legs..., pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.…they crucified him… (JOHN 20:25) [Thomas] unless I see the nail marks in his hands ,…”…JOHN 20:23-24 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining…Let’s not tear it”, they said,”Let’s decide by lot who gets it” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest…All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

The fact that J, being astute but not familiar with the Bible, made the logical but wrong conclusion that Psalm 22 was an eye-witness account of the Good Friday crucifixion, should make us ask a question. How do we explain the similarity between these accounts? Can we write it off to chance coincidence that the details can match so precisely as to include that the clothes would BOTH be divided (the clothes with seams were split along the seams and passed out among the soldiers) AND have lots cast (the garment without the seam would be ruined by tearing it so they threw dice for it). Psalm 22 was written before crucifixion was invented but it uncannily describes its various details (piercing of hands and feet, bones being out of joint – by being stretched as the victim hangs). In addition, the Gospel of John states that blood and water flowed out when the spear was thrust in Jesus’ side, indicating a fluid buildup in the pericardium cavity around the heart. Jesus thus died of a heart attack.  This matches the Psalm 22 description of ‘my heart has turned to wax’. The Hebrew word in Psalm 22 which is translated ‘pierced’ literally means ‘like a lion’. In other words the hand and feet were mutilated and mauled as they were pierced. So, what to make of all this?

Jesus, through the pens of the Gospel writers, argued that these similarities were prophetic. God inspired Old Testament prophets hundreds of years prior to Jesus’ life to predict details of his life and death so that we can know that this was all in the plan of God. Prophetic fulfillment is like having a Divine signature on these events of Good Friday since no human can know the future like this.

Bart Ehrman’s explanation

Bart Ehrman, renowned Bible scholar and arch Gospel critic, counters that the prophetic credentials of Psalm 22 are suspect because the whole thrust of the Gospel story was that the ‘Messiah’ or Christ was the one that was supposed to be sacrificed and Psalm 22 says nothing of the victim being the ‘Messiah’. As he states it

“But what to do with the fact that there were no Jewish prophecies that the Messiah would suffer and die?” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted. p. 234)

But this raises another issue. It is not that there is just one prophecy (like Psalm 22) that Jesus was to fulfill, but there are scores of them. These are testable predictions by different authors in different time periods and social strata through the Old Testament. So, to take Ehrman at his challenge, Daniel, living in exile in Babylon around 550 BC had a vision in which he was told the following prophetic riddle:

“Know and understand this: 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’. It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing… ” (Daniel 9:25-26)

Hmm. My deepest respects to the New Testament scholar but he missed this in the Old Testament. Here, exactly as he challenged, is a prophecy that the ‘Anointed One’ (= Christ = Messiah) would be ‘cut off’. The timing of this and the details of ‘cut off’, which foresaw the meaning of Jesus’ death, flatly refutes Ehrman’s assertion that there is no Old Testament prophecy where the ‘Christ’ was to suffer and die.

Spong’s explanation

Others, like Shelby Spong (in That Hebrew Lord), argue that the similarity of Psalm 22 with the events of crucifixion of Good Friday are simply due to the fact that the Gospel writers made the events up to ‘fit’ the prophecy. His detailed verse-by-verse analysis showing the similarities between Psalm 22 and Jesus’ crucifixion in the Gospel accounts is data to support his theory that the Gospel writers made up the crucifixion events, taking the details from Psalm 22. At the very least, Spong’s theory means that he thinks the similarities demand an explanation. But his explanation totally ignores the testimony of historians from that time outside of the Bible. Josephus and Tacitus respectively tell us that:

“At this time there was a wise man … Jesus. … good, and … virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die.” (Josephus. 90AD. Antiquities xviii. 33   Josephus was a Jewish Historian)

“Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius” (Tacitus. 117 AD. Annals XV. 44.  Tacitus was a Roman Historian)

Their testimony agrees in broad-brush strokes with the gospels that Jesus was indeed crucified. This is important because many of the details in Psalm 22 are simply particulars of the act of being crucified. If the gospel writers were going to make up or grossly distort the actual events to make them ‘fit’ Psalm 22 then they would basically have had to make up the whole crucifixion, yet no one denies his crucifixion, and Josephus explicitly states that this is how he was executed.

Psalm 22 and Jesus’ legacy

But Psalm 22 does not end at v18 in the table above – it continues seamlessly on. Note here how triumphant the mood is at the end –after the person is dead!

26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him— may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,

28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive.

30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.

31 They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it. (Psalm 22:26-31)

Notice that this is not talking at all about details of the events of this person’s death. That was dealt with in the first section of the Psalm. The psalmist is now addressing the impact of that person’s death on ‘posterity’ and ‘future generations’ (v.30). That is us living 2000 years later.  He tells us that  ‘posterity’ which follows this ‘pierced’ man who died such a horrible death will ‘serve’ him and be ‘told about him’.  Verse 27 predicts the geographic scope of the impact – it will go to the ‘ends of the earth’ and among ‘all families of nations’ and cause them to ‘turn to the LORD’. Verse 29 indicates how ‘those who cannot keep themselves alive’ (since we all die would that not be all of us?) will one day kneel before him. The righteousness of this man will be proclaimed to people who were not yet alive (the ‘yet unborn’) at the time of his death.

One could not make a better prediction of the subsequent legacy of the death of Jesus than Psalm 22 does. Two thousand years after Jesus amid global Good Friday celebrations this week highlight the worldwide impact of Jesus’ death, fulfilling the conclusion of Psalm 22 as uncannily as the earlier verses predicted the details of his death. Who else in world history can even make a claim that details of his death as well as the legacy of his life into the distant future would be predicted 1000 years before he lived?

The conclusion in Psalm 22 has nothing to do with whether the gospel accounts borrowed from it or not because it is now dealing with much later events – those of our time. The gospel writers, in the 1st century could not make up the impact of the death of Jesus into our time. How does Spong incorporate this fact in his explanation? He doesn’t. He ignores this latter part of Psalm 22.

Perhaps, like my friend J, you will take the opportunity this Good Friday to consider Psalm 22 in light of Jesus’ crucifixion. It will take more mental effort than if you just coasted through Good Friday. And you may make some gaffes as you engage with the text like J did. But don’t let that stop you. As you can see, even the most well-known of scholars make gaffes over Psalm 22. The reward is worth the risk because the man whom I believe Psalm 22 is referring to promised:

I have come that they may have life and have it to the full

That would make this Easter fulfilling indeed.  Here is the full Psalm 22, and the crucifixion account according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  May you experience some of that not only this Good Friday but through the year as well.

The Sign of the Branch (Part 1): The Dead Stump Reborn

One of the claims that Jesus put before the critics that he faced in his day was that:

… These are the very Scriptures that testify about me… (John 5:39)

In other words, Jesus claimed that his life and career was predicted and prophesied by the Old Testament books written by the Hebrew prophets that preceded him by hundreds of years. These prophets had claimed that God inspired their writings. Since no human mind can predict in such detail hundreds of years into the future, this became a line of evidence that Jesus said his contemporaries could use to verify if indeed Jesus came as part of a Divine Plan or if the whole gospel account was the product of some elaborate human scheme. Two thousand years later, the data that Jesus referred to is still available for us to examine and consider for ourselves.

We are now in the season of Lent with Easter fast approaching. The Easter season is certainly an opportune time to consider and assess how and if Jesus fulfills the gospel and if the Old Testament prophets did indeed testify about him. So I plan to take the next few posts to see if and how the Old Testament bears on Jesus and Easter.

First let’s do some review. We had seen that Psalm 2 was where the term ‘Christ’ as a title of a specific person who was to come was first given. Psalm 2 was written ca 1000 BC. We also saw that Daniel predicted a special coming person and these two passages together predict the coming of someone who will be alternatively called: Son of God, Son of Man, Anointed One, Messiah, and Christ. The whole tone and thrust of these scriptures was future-looking. They were anticipating someone. But it did not end there. Much more was written in a prophetic, future-looking direction. Other titles and themes were developed. Isaiah (750 BC) started an intriguing title that later Old Testament books picked up on and developed into a fully-fledged theme – that of the coming Branch.

Isaiah and The Branch

The figure below shows Isaiah in a historical timeline with some other Old Testament writers.

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

You will see from the color coding that Isaiah’s book was written in the period of the

The image Isaiah used of the Dynasty as a tree

The image Isaiah used of the Dynasty as a tree

Davidic Royal dynasty (1000 – 600 BC). [see here for overview of Israelite history].  When it was written (ca 750 BC) the dynasty and kingdom was corrupt. Isaiah was written as a plea to return back to God and the practice and spirit of the Mosaic Law. But Isaiah knew that this repentant return would not happen and thus he also predicted that the country would be destroyed and the royal dynasty would be shattered.

He used a specific metaphor, or image, for the royal dynasty where he pictured it like a great tree. This tree had at its root Jesse, the father of King David. Upon Jesse the Dynasty was started with David, and from his successor, Solomon, the tree continued to grow and develop.

First a Tree … then a Stump … then a Branch

But then Isaiah wrote that this dynastic ‘tree’ would soon be cut down, reducing it to a stump. But along with all this warning came this intriguing prophetic riddle:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

The cutting down of this ‘tree’ happened about 150 years after Isaiah, around 600 BC, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and dragged its people and king into exile to Babylon (the red period in the timeline above). Jesse was the father of King David, and thus the root of the Davidic Dynasty.Isaiah predicted the dynasty of david as a stump He would be the counterpart to the father of Elendil, the founder of the dynasty of Kings of Gondor in the Lord of the Rings. The ‘stump of Jesse’ was therefore an allusion to the (coming) shattered and broken dynasty of kings from David.

The Branch: A coming ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

But this riddle simultaneously looked further into the future then the cutting down of the tree. Isaiah explicitly predicted that though the ‘stump’ (the line of David from Jesse) would to all appearances look dead, one day in the far future a shoot, known as the Branch, would emerge from that same stump, just like shoots can regenerate from real tree stumps. This Branch isaiah predicted that a one would come from the stump as a branchis referred to as a ‘him’ so Isaiah is talking about a coming man, coming from the line of David after the dynasty was cut down. This man would have such qualities of wisdom, power, and knowledge it would be as if the very Spirit of God would be resting on him.

Jesus … A ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

We have seen how Jewish scholars, even though hostile witnesses, placed Jesus in the royal line of David, just as the Gospel writers did. Jesus fits the criterion of coming ‘from the stump of Jesse’. The very startling thing about the accounts of Jesus in the gospels is the wisdom and understanding he possessed. His shrewdness, poise and insight in dealing with opponents and followers alike in his day continue to impress both critics and followers ever since. And though he did not rule, his power in the gospels through miracles is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them. As well as in coming from the line of David, Jesus fits the criterion of possessing exceptional qualities of wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.

Jeremiah and The Branch

It is like a signpost laid down by Isaiah in history. But it did not end there. His signpost is but the first in a series of signs. Jeremiah, living about 150 years after Isaiah, when the jeremiah in timelineDavidic dynasty was actually being cut down before his very eyes wrote:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD our Righteousness“. (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

Jeremiah explicitly expands on the Branch theme of the Davidic dynasty started by Isaiah much earlier. The Branch will be a King who reigns. But this is exactly what the Psalm 2 and Daniel 7 prophecies said of the coming Son of God/Son of Man/Messiah. Could it be that the Branch and the Son of God are one and the same? Notice who is making the declaration about the Branch – it is the ‘LORD’ making this declaration.

The Branch: The LORD our Righteousness

But what is this Branch to be called? Why also none other than the ‘LORD’ (the same name) who will also be ‘our’ (that is – we humans) Righteousness. As we saw with Abraham, the overwhelming problem for humans is that we are ‘corrupt’, and thus in desperate need of ‘righteousness’. And here, in the describing of the Branch, we see a hint that people in Jeremiah’s future would obtain their needed ‘righteousness’ accredited by none other than LORD – YHWH himself (YHWH is the name for God in the Old Testament). But how would this be done? Zechariah fills in further details for us as he develops further on this theme of the Coming Branch, predicting even the name of Jesus – which we look at in our next post.

The Bible: Inspired by God or thought up by men?

The Bible’s argument for God’s Existence

The Bible is the perennial best-seller of all time. It has been translated into more languages than any other book. However, the Bible is also controversial. For one thing it claims that God inspired its writing. An example of such a claim is:

“All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”(2 Timothy 3:16).

The question I had when faced with such a claim was, how could I know whether it was true or not? For one thing, how can I know that God exists?  Does one have to believe in the existence of God before one looks at the Bible?  After all, lots of holy books and even religious leaders make similar claims.  The well-known atheist Bertrand Russell surveyed the plethora of religions, most making claims and statements contradicting each other, yet all claiming some Divine origin and concluded that all religions were false. Was Russell right? Or is there some evidence that the Bible has to validate its claim? Or does one choose whether to believe a scripture or not solely based on culture and upbringing, or on some whim and fancy?

The Bible`s Test for God & Proof of Inspiration

As I struggled with these questions, I came across a test that the Bible itself laid down to prove its inspiration and to prove God’s existence. It is the Bible’s argument and proof for the existence of God and is spelled out in the following Biblical passages.

“You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD’? If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message that the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)

“Present your case,” says the LORD … “you idols tell us what is going to happen … declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know you are gods.” (Isaiah 41:21-23)

The test that the Bible lays out is quite simple, yet clear-cut. To know if a message came from God the statements say that it should be supported by predictions of the future. The reasoning is that if God exists, He knows the future, whereas though people can make some educated guesses we can’t predict the future with consistent accuracy, and false gods know nothing about the future. Thus a message from God can be differentiated from those of people or false gods on the basis of its predictive abilities.  If the messages do predict the future then they must come from God then He must exist.  This is evidence that God is there and talking to us.  The Bible’s argument for God’s existence is pretty straightforward.

But can we apply this proof for God’s existence?  I was acutely aware that predictive prophecy was subject to interpretation, especially if the predictive statements were vague. After all, New Years’ tabloids usually have headlines from some ‘psychic’ who predicts that there will be a disaster or turmoil in the course of the coming year. Such general predictions are bound to happen statistically. Were there prophecies in the Bible that were really substantive and precise? That gave a real sign of Divine inspiration? Let me share with you what I have learned on this topic.

Basic Facts of the Bible

In order to assess this evidence one needs to know some basic facts about the Bible. The Bible has two main sections, the Old Testament, comprised of 39 books written in the period 1500 BC to 400 BC, by a wide variety of authors.  The following short video of a public presentation I did at a university will give you a quick but adequate background on the authorship of the Old Testament.

The New Testament comprised of 27 books written between 50 AD and 90 AD.  To get basic background information on the textual reliability of the New Testament, see the following 17 minute video from another presentation at another university and/or browse this article here.

The New Testament centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. What is fascinating is that he claimed that the Old Testament also anticipated his person and work. For example, on one occasion Luke tells us of Jesus that

“beginning with Moses and all the Prophets [i.e. the Old Testament] he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

This, if true, should include these predictive prophecies since Moses (ca 1500 BC) and the Prophets (ca 1000 – 500 BC) were written hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth. What kind of predictions did they make? Were they vague and subjective? Or definitive? Let’s take a look at the evidence.

Isaiah Prophecies of the Servant

See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him – his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness – so he will sprinkle [i.e. help or heal] many nations.  Isaiah 52:13-15 (written 750 BC)

This passage is explicitly forward-looking (with the ‘will’ as in future tense) and thus predicts a coming ‘servant’ who will be known for being wise. The passage seems to contradict itself, however, since it says he will be highly exalted and lifted up – then it talks about him becoming disfigured and marred beyond recognition – so that all ‘nations’ will be affected. The controversy of the violence and blood in Mel Gibson’s The Passion movie shows us visually how this prophecy was fulfilled. Jesus was known as a wise teacher, and he is exalted by many. Yet the beatings and punishment he received at his death was so appalling and disfiguring that his form was literally marred beyond human likeness. People in all nations have recognized him. That prophecy was literally fulfilled by Jesus in all its facets.  See this article here for a more detailed breakdown of this prediction.

Isaiah prophecy of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed .. the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and afflicted .. he was led like a lamb to the slaughter .. by oppression and judgment he was taken away.  And who can speak of his descendants?  For he was cut off from the land of the living.  For the transgression of my people he was stricken .. After the suffering of his soul he will see the light of life and be satisfied.  By his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many. (Isaiah 53: 5-11)

This continues on from the previous passage to describe the servant as being pierced for our transgressions.  What an apt description of a person who is being nailed to a cross – he is being pierced.  But this was written before crucifixion was even invented!  The rest of the passage goes on to state that he was bearing our iniquities (sins) so that we can experience peace and healing in our relationship with God; that he would afterwards see the light of life and justify many.  The Good News of the early Gospel followers was exactly that: God is extending us his forgiveness since Jesus bore the penalty of our sins (through his death) and since he was resurrected we now have the hope of eternal life.  Isaiah is anticipating not only the historical events around Jesus (his suffering, crucifixion & resurrection) but the implications of these events in our relationship with God.

The Prophecy of the Crucifixion in the Psalms

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?… I am … scorned by men and despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. … I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me… a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet…I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me .. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.  .. All the ends of the earth will remember… Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.  They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn. (Psalm 22, ca 1000 BC)

Jesus, while on the cross did call out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”(5).  In doing so Jesus was pointing to Psalm 22 which opens with the same words.  As one reads that Psalm, the highlights of which I have produced, one gets a description of the crucifixion of Jesus, in first person, including the mocking and insults he received, the dislocating of the joints, the piercing of hands and feet, the dividing of garments.  How was David, the author of Psalm 22, able to get such an accurate visualization of the crucifixion 1000 years before it occurred?  And notice how the Psalm ends.  It describes the legacy or effect of this person.  It says that generations following the crucifixion will be told about it.  And here we are about 2000 years after the crucifixion studying aspects of it – just as David predicted.  For a further breakdown of Psalm 22 see this article here.

The Prophecy of lineage

“’The days are coming’, declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.   Jeremiah 33:14-15 ca. 600 BC

Note that this prophecy predicts that someone will come from David’s line (David was the famous Jewish King who defeated Goliath and founded the city of Jerusalem ca 1000 BC – see historical overview here), and this person would be just and right. This prediction was fulfilled by Jesus Christ who was a descendant of David as well as a person who is famous for being ‘just and right’. The lineages were meticulously preserved in that ancient Middle Eastern culture, and both Matthew (ch 1) and Luke (ch 3) trace Jesus’ lineage to his ancestor King David.  For Jewish verification of Jesus’ lineage outside of the Bible see my article here.

The name of Jesus Prophesied!

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! … and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.  Zechariah 3:8-9 written 500 BC

Zechariah picks up from Jeremiah and predicts more about the coming Branch of David. It is interesting that Joshua (who was the person in 500 BC to whom Zechariah was directly speaking) is a variant of the name Yeshua, which was Jesus name in Aramaic. In other words Jesus and Joshua are variants of the same name (like John and Jonathan are variants of each other – see here for further explanation). And Zechariah says that the Joshua of his day was symbolic of the Branch, and this Branch would remove the sin of the land in one single day. The day Jesus (Yeshua) died he did so for the sins of all people. So literally, in a single day the sins of the land were removed. In a sense, Jesus’ name and victory over sin were predicted 500 years before he lived.  This article here explores this prophecy in further detail.

Birthplace of Jesus prophesied

“But you, Bethlehem, 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.” Micah 5:2 written 700 BC

This prediction has of today been partially fulfilled. Jesus was born in Bethlehem (as the Christmas accounts tell us), but he has never yet ruled over Israel. It is interesting though that he claimed to be a King (‘Christ’ is a title signifying kingship). For example, he declared, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory”(Matthew 25:31). This indicates that he taught that he would return again to earth – this time to rule, which would thus fulfill both parts of Micah’s prophecy. At this point at least we have the fulfillment of his birth place.

Explanations for the prophecies

In this short study we’ve had time to look at just a few predictions in the Old Testament that seem to be fulfilled in the person and life of Jesus Christ. What are some possible explanations? It could just be coincidence. If it were just these few prophecies we looked at then that could perhaps be contemplated. Sometimes bizarre and unusual coincidences just happen. But when we consider that there are several hundred direct and indirect prophecies and allusions in the Old Testament that are completed in Jesus, of which we have looked at just a few, it would seem that coincidence is a poor explanation for such a large and converging set of predictions. And people who did not know each other, living hundreds of years apart wrote these prophecies. In our little sample we looked at Psalm 22 written by David ca 1000 BC down to Zechariah who lived about 500 BC. Yet their writings independently converge on Jesus.

The most likely explanation that I considered was that the Old Testament writings were changed after the life of Jesus to make them ‘fit’. However, the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls ruled that explanation out. The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1948, contain almost the entire Old Testament, they are dated at 200 B.C, and they are exactly the same as traditional Old Testament texts. Thus we have manuscripts in hand today that pre-date Jesus by about 200 years, containing the same predictions, so they could not have been altered after his life to make the predictions fit his life.  For further information on the Dead Sea Scrolls and how they relate to this question see my short video on this topic:

Or perhaps the life of Jesus was written in the Gospels of the New Testament to make it ‘fit’ the Old Testament prophecies. The problem with that explanation is that so many of the predictions and fulfillments revolve around public aspects of Jesus life. Take the first prophecies we looked at, for example, which foretell his passion and crucifixion. The Gospel writers could not just ‘make up’ a highly public event. In fact secular writers of that time refer of Jesus being crucified under Pontius Pilate (ex. Tacitus. 112 AD. Annals XV 44  & Josephus. 67AD. Antiquities xviii. 33 ).  You can check here the Session or the article here that explores these secular writers that refer to events of Jesus’ life in their historical writings.  Early Christian writers refer to Pilate’s records of the crucifixion kept in Caesar’s official archives (Justin Martyr 150 AD First Apology ch xxxv). It was as if it was common knowledge of that day.

Or perhaps the New testament was gradually modified over time to make it better ‘fit’ the predictions of the Old Testament as scribes started to understand more what was supposed to happen with Jesus’ life.  But again, the remarkable stability of the New Testament text precludes this explanation.

So who was behind the writings of the Bible? Was it only men, or was it that, as the Bible itself says, “… [it] never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The fulfilled prophecies should give us pause because no other set of writings, holy or otherwise, has this same kind of signature on it.  At the very least, this short study should encourage us to study this question more thoroughly so that we can be informed of the case for Biblical Inspiration and the existence of God.  If you go to the Allusions Session and the Prequeled Sequel nature of the Gospel, you will have access to some videos and blog posts that explore this vital question more in depth.  I hope you take the time to find out, because the question is an important one.