Jesus told the men on the road to Emmaus, “How foolish you are and slow of heart to believe all that the Prophets had spoken! . . . . Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:25, 27). The Lord Jesus believed that messianic prophecy was crucial. So why should it also be important to us?
You may have heard that recently my new book, The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy was released by Moody Publishers. I’ve done numerous radio and print interviews and every interviewer seems to be asking the same question, “What is so important about messianic prophecy?” People want to know why it’s so crucial to grasp what the Old Testament revealed about the Messiah. In my opinion, there are at least three essential reasons for knowing and understanding the messianic predictions of the Hebrew Bible.
First, God can use messianic prophecy to strengthen the faith of doubting believers. A great example of this is found in Matthew 11, when John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, the one who had announced that Jesus was the Promised One, begins to struggle with his faith because of his circumstances. Herod Antipas had arrested him and thrown him in prison. So John sends a message to Jesus through some disciples, asking “Are You the Coming One, or should we expect someone else” (Matt 11:3)? The Lord responds by directing them to tell John, “the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor are told the good news (Matt 11:5). Although this seems to be directing John merely to the miracles and message of the Lord Jesus, it’s also much more. That’s because Jesus was taking two separate messianic predictions, from Isaiah 35 and Isaiah 61, conflating them together, and then, in effect saying to John, “Look what I’m doing. It’s a fulfillment of messianic prophecy.” The point of the Lord Jesus was to use messianic prophecy to strengthen the faith of doubting John the Baptist.
One of the reasons I’m grateful that I get to teach a course on messianic prophecy every year at Moody and every other year at Dallas Seminary, is that it gives me such spiritual encouragement. As I go through the predictions of the Messiah and how they were fulfilled by the Lord Jesus, it quiets the whispering voice of doubt and discouragement that I hear, that we all hear, from time to time. Messianic prophecy is one of the great faith strengtheners God has given us all.
There’s a second reason messianic prophecy is important: It’s one of the essential proofs that Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Messiah. In the book of Acts, when observing the core message of the apostles, it’s clear that they relied on two key points in their preaching. One was the resurrection of Jesus—that this Messiah they are following had been raised from the dead. The other was messianic prophecy—that Jesus had fulfilled the predictions of the Old Testament. Read through the book of Acts and mark every time the apostles point to the Old Testament as proof of Jesus’ identity. You’ll be amazed how central that is to their message. One example is from Acts 3:22-24. There Peter cites Deuteronomy 18:15-19, showing how Moses had predicted the coming of a Prophet like himself. Then he adds “all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, have announced these days.” When I talk to Jesus followers about why they believe, so often they point out the evidence for the resurrection—and that’s a good reason. Nevertheless, the prophecies about the Messiah are just as essential for identifying Jesus as the true Messiah.
The third reason messianic prophecy is important is that it’s vital to evangelism. Of course most people recognize that using messianic prediction is important for presenting Messiah to the Jewish people. But it’s also a vital evidence for all people in our secular age. Living in a post-faith society, most secular people don’t believe the Bible is supernatural revelation, the inspired Word of God. Yet one of the reasons God uses predictive prophecy is to show that God does indeed foretell the future in His Word. That’s one of Isaiah the prophet’s central ideas. Although he repeats this in several places, one such statement is in Isaiah 44:6-8. There God says through Isaiah, “I am the First and I am the Last. There is no God but me. Who, like Me, can announce the future? . . . . Have I not told you and declared it long ago?” One of the strongest examples of God declaring the future before it happened is messianic prophecy. Showing messianic predictions and their fulfillment by Jesus is a great way to encourage faith in the supernatural nature of the Bible.
I frequently ask Jesus followers if they believe the Old Testament predicts the Messiah and almost uniformly they say, “yes.” But when I follow up by asking for specifics, “Exactly where does the Old Testament predict the Messiah?” people begin to stammer and sputter. “Well I know it’s there someplace.” If we are to identify Jesus as the Messiah, strengthen our faith in Him, or proclaim the Good News to others, we need to know and understand messianic prophecy.