The claim of the gospel is that it is God’s idea and plan. Now there are many claims to Divine messages behind religions and prophets in all sorts of places and times – that hardly makes the gospel unique. But the gospel is unusual in that it backs up its claim in part by basing it on ancient prophetic themes that were fulfilled in Jesus. In other words if we go back to these ancient prophets we find them pointing in (their) future to Jesus. Or taken another way, it is like discovering that the Sequel (Jesus) is embedded into the Prequel (Old Testament) that predates it by hundreds of years.
In this session we consider these prophetic themes. There are many of these themes and I cannot cover them all, but we get a start so that we can get a better feel for this topic. When you go through the videos different explanations and hypotheses to explain the themes will likely go through your mind. They went through my mind anyways. Explanations that I considered were along the lines of:
– This could simply be due to chance. Unusual patterns do happen – and by chance. Perhaps this is a case of events in history being repeated so taken together they look just like patterns.
– The New Testament writers in essence made up large swaths of the Jesus story to make it fit with the Old Testament
– This is a case of over-imagination on my part.
This is the interesting part of this exercise – we all can come to our own conclusions as to the meaning of these prophecies. But may I suggest you consider these points as you reflect on the videos:
1) The Old Testament themes are explicitly forward-looking in a prophetic manner. This is not a question of simple pattern recognition where we ‘see’ patterns in the Old Testament which are repeated by Jesus – making the dual occurrences of the events look ‘prophetic’. These Old Testament writers, in effect, are going out on a limb by saying explicitly ‘X will happen’. To simply dismiss these themes as coming from over-imaginative or biased New Testament writers repeating a pattern of the Old Testament is too simplistic and does not capture the Old Testament utterances. Where do the OT writers get the confidence to predict and write down that certain things will come to pass?
This is corroborated in that there was (and still is) an expectation among the Jews that a ‘SomeOne’ was coming. This anticipation of a Coming One was because of these Old Testament themes that explicitly gave future-based predictions looking to a certain fulfillment. Whether Jesus fulfills them or not is another, but related, issue.
2) These themes that are developed in the Old Testament are not random but make sense of the person and career of Jesus. In other words, these themes are not meaningless ones but go to the heart of the significance of Jesus. If the themes are random in the sense that they are based simply on any patterns that repeat themselves then we would expect them (or some) to be patterns that have no meaning. But the Old Testament themes of ‘Branch’, ‘Christ’, ‘Son of God’, ‘Priest-King’ etc. are packed with meaning irrespective of whether they are fulfilled in Jesus or not.
3) The Old Testament prophecies come in definitive themes where the different Old Testament authors build and expand on specific themes inaugurated by predecessors that they did not know because they are separated in history by multiples of human lifespans. The interplay between these OT authors, most of whom could not have known each other, is remarkable. When I see the disagreements that arise between theologians of the same religion – and this across all religions – the fact that these OT writers could build such consistent and interdependent themes is remarkable and I think unique in literature.
4) At the same time these themes deal with different aspects of Jesus. Some deal with his identity, some with his lineage, others with his death etc. Like lines converging on a single point from various angles, these themes converge on Jesus from different perspectives.
5) Some of these themes are verified by sources outside the New Testament. So explaining the ‘fulfillment’ of these themes as simply due to the New Testament writers making up an account of Jesus to make it fit the Old Testament themes is too simplistic. Outside (usually hostile) sources corroborate Jesus’ name, lineage, date of death, place of death, impact of career etc. The New Testament writers could not simply have made this up.
6) There are many of these prophetic themes and it is the cumulative weight of them that should be considered. Probability theory tells us that the probability of multiple events occurring is the product of the probability of each event. So, for example, I show herein that the name of ‘Jesus’ is predicted. Let’s say we reason that 10% of Jewish males were named ‘Jesus’ then there would be a 10% chance of this prophecy being ‘fulfilled’ by chance. And similarly the chance that he would die in Jerusalem (as per Session 5) is (say) 10% since it was the religious and cultural capital and many came there and thus many would die there by chance. These prophecies taken separately are not too remarkable, 10% each I could estimate. But the probability of both of these occurring in the person of Jesus is the product of the two thus 1/10* 1/10 = 1/100. The odds have gone up a fair bit. And every time we factor in another theme we need to multiply the probability of that particular fulfillment with the others to get the total. So when we factor in that the prophetic sign (again as per Session 5) was that he was going to die on a Passover = 1/365, that he was going to be cut off 483 years after Artaxerxes decree (let’s estimate that one at 1/100), that he would come from the Davidic Dynasty (1/50 say), then we are now dealing with a probability of 1/10* 1/10 *1/365 * 1/100 * 1/50 = 1 out of 182 million and we have not started incorporating the details of his death as covered by Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. Come up with your own odds for these events if you find mine too generous and you will still find that the odds grow very quickly indeed.
But probably the biggest hurdle that keeps us feeling the force of these prophetic themes is that they are partly obscured for us since we do not know Old Testament history and because we are not aware of the impact of the Septuagint on the translation of certain key names and titles. Please read posts ( I and II) on the Septuagint and the first video that will provide key background information to help us better understand what we encounter in the subsequent two videos that deal directly with these prophetic themes.
In the 2nd video I explore the Old Testament prophetic themes of `Christ`, ‘The Branch’, ‘Jesus’, and the ‘Priest-King’. I argue that these themes are prophetically fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. I show why the title ‘Christ’ = ‘Messiah’ = ‘Anointed One’, showing that this theme has its roots in the Psalms of David. I also show that ‘Jesus’ = ‘Joshua’ and this was the name predicted by Zechariah which would be ‘The Branch’. I look at the prophecies stating that the roles of King and Priest – which was kept strictly separate in the Old Testament period – would one day be united in one person – The Branch.
In the 3rd video I explore the prophecies of Old Testament which describe in detail how the ‘Priest-King’ would atone for sin. First I look at Daniel who tells us when the ‘Christ’ was to come and then be ‘cut off’. His prediction looks about 500 years into his future and he lands on the time of the death of Jesus. How was he to be ‘cut off’? We look at Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 to see the detailed predictions of how he was to die. But Psalm 22 does not end with the death of Jesus – it describes the impact of his career to ‘future generations’ and they have come true. I also look at prophecies describing his nature
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