The Case for Jesus the Messiah – Incredible Prophecies that Prove God Exists/Part 21

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©{{{copyright}}}
The “Issue” of Interpretation

Editor’s Note: This material was first published in book form in 1989 by the John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association (now known as the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute).

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Many of the Messianic prophecies are clear, but not all of them are. Some of them clearly state they are prophesying about the Messiah. Others appear to intermingle the life events of the prophet who is speaking with the future events that are proclaimed about the Messiah.

Reasons for careful study of Messianic prophecies

Because of this, critics have claimed that the Messianic prophecies are all obscure and their meanings are so vague and ambiguous that their application is doubtful. Here are some of the reasons why Messianic prophecies must be studied carefully[1]:

  • Sometimes the prophecies are not totally clear by divine appointment. For example, God says the time certain prophecies in Daniel will be fulfilled are “closed up and sealed until the time of the end” (Dan. 12:8,9; cf. Num. 12:8; Lk. 10:21).
  • Sometimes the prophets are given visions in which they see and hear events occurring in the present but which are to be applied to the future. As a result, the appearing of the Messiah is sometimes stated as if it were about to occur immediately, but it is really describing a future event.
  • God gives different parts of the total prophetic picture, like various pieces in a puzzle, to His prophets. To one prophet, living in one era, God may reveal information about the Messiah’s suffering. To another prophet, living in another time, God may give information about Messiah’s birthplace. Because of this, one prophet speaks of the Messiah as the anointed King, another as Jehovah’s chosen Servant (Isa. 42:1).
  • Sometimes prophetic events are “telescoped” so that the intervening years are deliberately passed over. For example, in Isaiah 52:13-15, first the Servant of the Lord is portrayed as prosperous, high and lifted up. But then suddenly we are told, “…his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.”

From the next chapter, Isaiah 53:1ff, we realize the Servant must suffer before He prospers.

  • Finally, many of the most obscure prophecies are seen to be extremely clear after their fulfillment. For example, in Isaiah 53, the Messiah is portrayed as both the suffering Servant and the conquering King. The text says He will be cut off from the land of the living, but He will also prolong His days. He will be despised and rejected of men, but He will also divide His portion with the great.

From the New Testament, the One who claimed He was the Messiah spoke of His coming to earth a second time. It is then we understand fully the information given by the prophets.

The obscurity and seeming contradiction in this Messianic passage has resulted in perplexing many of the rabbis. That’s why they tried to solve this perplexing passage by inventing two distinct Messiahs.

But after Jesus, it’s obvious that the Messiah was One Person with two different missions. Many prophecies are like this. That is why Gloag and Delitzsch have written, “Such prophecies cannot properly be charged with obscurity: on the contrary, when viewed in the light of their fulfillment, they are plain and obvious.”[2]

Do they point to Jesus

Therefore, if some of the Messianic prophecies are obscure, the question is, upon their fulfillment, are they clear and do they point directly to Jesus?

A prophecy that was totally obscure would be one which was so pliable that it could be twisted into finding fulfillment in a thousand different ways. If a statement presents no clear or specific information, such a statement certainly would be meaningless.

Let us illustrate this point by examining an example of a meaningless prophecy. If someone said, “In a future age, when masses accumulate under the sun, a great thing will occur,” this would be meaningless. Why? Because each part of this prophecy is either too general or too vague and could have a hundred fulfillments. A future “age” could be any point in the future. “Masses accumulate” could refer to almost anything (people, wealth, clouds, locusts, insects, etc.). “Under the sun” could refer to any event on earth and “a great thing” could be defined in a hundred different ways.

A Messianic prophecy is not like this. It may be brief, terse and initially obscure, but upon careful examination four important facts will be discovered. (1) The context limits the meaning.

Each prophecy is given within an immediate biblical text. This greatly reduces the range of meanings and application of the prophecy. The words in the prophecy are defined and given meaning by the words used in the immediate context. (2) The charge of total obscurity is never true.

Even when partially obscure, the prophecy always gives specific, not generalized, statements. For example, “… My servant will prosper, be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.… his appearance was marred more than any man.” Here we can see that the mystery of Isaiah 52:13-14 is cleared up when we realize Isaiah was speaking of Jesus’ first coming when He was stricken, smitten and afflicted. Only at Jesus’ second coming will verse 13 be fulfilled—”My servant will prosper, be highly lifted up and exalted.” (3) The partial obscurity itself eventually gives way to clarity.

The biblical example of Isaiah 53 given above also applies here. The mystery and partial obscurity of Messianic passages have been revealed to be profound and amazing predictions the moment Jesus Christ appeared on the scene. (4) The prophetic plan is not yet completed.

Many prophecies still remain to be fulfilled

Many prophecies still remain to be fulfilled according to Jesus. When the disciples met Him after His resurrection before He ascended to heaven, they asked Him, “‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority’” (Acts 1:6,7; cf. 3:21).

Like their fellow countrymen, the disciples were wondering when Jesus would fulfill the Messianic prophecies and institute the Messianic kingdom. Jesus’ answer showed it was still future and the Father had set those times and dates by His own authority.

Another example that many prophecies remain to be fulfilled in the future according to Jesus can be seen from His testimony during His trial: “The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God.’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven”‘ (Mt. 26:63-64).

This is a direct reference to the greatest Messianic prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures given by Daniel (Dan. 7:13). It proves Jesus knew He was the Messiah and would at His second coming fulfill what Daniel had said; namely, He would be “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt. 24:30, 31).

Since Messianic prophecies encompass all that the Messiah was to do, and since we know from Jesus that the Messianic program is not yet complete, these prophecies are of necessity not yet completely fulfilled. But there have been enough prophecies fulfilled completely to expect the rest will also be completely fulfilled.

Even a clear and specific prophecy such as Micah 5:2, which predicts the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, also reveals He will someday be the Ruler over Israel, which is not yet fulfilled.

The different prophecies can be compared to a complex building project that involves the construction of many high-rise buildings, several parks and streams, underground garages, and recreation facilities. One does not evaluate and grade the architect, the workers or the building complex itself when it is only half completed. One can only judge when the complex has been completely finished. Just because part of the foundation and some of the structure is built, this does not mean that the total building will never be built. Rather, a good foundation and some of the structure should engender confidence that someday the entire building will be built.

Much of what the prophets said has already taken place—the Messiah has been born in Bethlehem, plainly identified Himself as being both God and Messiah (Jn. 4:24-26; Jn. 5:18), suffered and died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead. On the basis of what has taken place, one may confidently expect that God will bring about the rest.

Read Part 22


  1. Delitzsch and Gloag, Part 2, pp. 101-110.
  2. Ibid., p. 107.

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