Is the Old Testament a Messianic Book?

By September 28, 20195 Comments

Did the Old Testament predict the future Messiah? Or did New Testament authors just pick OT verses out of context and try to make them say they were about the Messiah? I once went to an academic conference and heard a paper read by an OT professor from one of the world’s leading Bible believing seminaries. His paper was about whether the OT prophets really predicted the Messiah. The listeners sat there in shock as he made the case that there wasn’t one verse in the Hebrew Bible that predicted a messianic figure. In fact, he argued, the whole idea of the Messiah was made up in the time period between the OT and the NT. Since the NT maintains that Jesus was the fulfillment of OT prophecy, he needed to come up with some sort of explanation, some way of dealing with that issue. And he did. He argued that the human authors of the Bible only wrote about what was going on in their own day but that the Holy Spirit had a deeper and fuller sense. He believed the divine inspirer of Scripture had it mean something more than the human authors understood.

To me this argument had numerous flaws, the first of which was that the prophets didn’t know they were writing about the Messiah. This idea was rooted in a mistaken interpretation of 1 Peter 1:10-12. There it says that the OT prophets “made careful searches and inquiries,  seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Messiah within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.” The passage doesn’t say they didn’t know that they were writing about the Messiah. It says they didn’t know when the Messiah would come or who He would be. It’s similar to today when we know there is a future false Messiah, the Antichrist, coming. But we don’t know when or who he will be. But the passage goes on to say that it was revealed that they weren’t writing about their own day but about the Messiah’s arrival in the distant future.

Another problematic aspect of this view is an unusual view of biblical inspiration. The Bible is an inspired text (2 Timothy 3:16) because human authors were moved by the Holy Spirit to write the words God intended, using their own ideas, personalities, and styles (2 Peter 1:21). In other words, both the divine author and the human author had to have the same meaning when they wrote, they had to have the same intention. In fact, the Holy Spirit’s superintending of the human author guaranteed the truth of the human author’s intentions and words. The Holy Spirit is the one who enabled biblical prophets to predict the future Messiah.

Yet another problem with this view is that the Lord Jesus, the Messiah Himself, disagrees with it. Think about when the Messiah Jesus met Cleopas and his friends on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:25-27. He told them that the only thing that kept them from believing in messianic prophecy was that they were foolish and lacking in faith. He goes on to say that the prophets foretold that the Messiah would suffer and then enter into glory (or be resurrected). Then, Luke says, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”

And then, just a little further down in Luke 24, the Lord Jesus had a resurrection appearance with His disciples. He meets them in the upper room and tells them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was with you—that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” And what did He say was written? That “the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead” (Luke 24:44-46).

And just to be clear that the OT authors understood their words, remember what Jesus told Israel’s leadership in John 5:45-47. There He said, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. Your accuser is Moses . . .  for if you believed Moses, you would believe me, because He wrote about me.” Jesus point is that at the final judgment, Moses Himself would convict them because they should have believed in His predictions of the Messiah. How could Moses do that if He Himself did not understand that He was writing about the Messiah?  According to Jesus words, the authors of the Hebrew Bible understood they were predicting the Messiah.

Last century, biblical scholar A. T. Robertson commented, “Jesus found himself in the Old Testament, a thing that some modern scholars do not seem to be able to do.” Robertson was jabbing the critical scholars of his own day, whose anti-supernaturalism kept them from recognizing any direct predictions of the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). How sad to me that the views of these critics have become so influential that they have infiltrated even committed Bible believing scholars. God used messianic predictions to lead me to faith in the Messiah Jesus and to have confidence in the inspiration of Scripture. We need to reclaim messianic prophecy as one of the great evidences that Jesus is the Messiah and that His word is true.


  • Avatar Steve Robbins says:

    So hard to believe that this could be missed especially the ones in Isaiah. Thanks for all of the insights that you post. I find them enlightening.

  • Avatar Cathy Johnson says:

    I just won a copy of this book from Kelli and Steve this morning!!! ! Thank you so much for writing on this topic. Sounds crazy but Deuteronomy is my favorite book of the Bible and I so love studying the Old Testament. Blessings to you and your family. Cathy Johnson

  • Avatar Casey Vaughn says:

    Thank you

  • Avatar Brian D Gochenour says:

    What academic commentary on Psalms do you find most helpful? Great work on The Messianic Hope and The Moody Handbook!

    • Dr. Michael Rydelnik Dr. Michael Rydelnik says:

      My favorite book on the Psalms is David C. Mitchell’s The Message of the Psalter. My favorite commentary is Allen Ross’s Three Volume set.

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