Most Western Christians, at least those of the Evangelical strain, anchor their faith on the presumption that the books of the Protestant canon are the verbatim words of God. They point to old testament prophecies about the Messiah, compare them to the life of Jesus, and regard them as proof that the bible is, in fact, God’s inerrant, inspired, Word. They occasionally point out that this is how we can be sure that Jesus is the Messiah, but usually, the focus is attempting to prove that The Bible is worthy of worship.
Something that’s really nagged at me is what seemed to be the stretching of some old testament writings in order to draw parallels to Jesus’ life. Some of these parallels are drawn by Christians, some by new testament writers, and some by Jesus himself.
There are several specific, predictive prophecies in the old testament that refer to the Messiah, and they were dramatically played out in the life of Jesus. Here are a few for the purpose of illustration:
- The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5)
- The Messiah would suffer horribly (Isaiah 52-53)
- The Messiah would be conceived by a Virgin (Isaiah 7)
But I’ve struggled to understand how the “soft prophecies” that are frequently cited could accurately be called Messianic prophecies, specific to the life of Jesus. Here are a few of the more common ones:
- David’s betrayal (Psalm 41)
- David’s saying that his enemies pierced his hands and feet (Psalm 22)
- David’s saying that his enemies gambled to figure out how to divide his confiscated clothing (Psalm 22)
- The statement by Hosea that the nation of Israel would come out of Egypt (Hosea 11)
- The slaughter (or capture) of Jewish children (applied to the time and place of the Messiah’s birth, Jeremiah 31)
Now, there are unquestionable similarities between the contexts in which these statements were written and the life of Jesus, but they were not written as predictions. They were all written about specific historical events known to the author. It seemed to me to be a real stretch to say that they were prophecies specifically about Jesus. So when I heard people say things like “God says in Psalm 22 ‘they cast lots for my clothing’ so we can clearly see that Jesus is the Messiah and that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God,” something just didn’t feel right. Even supposing supernatural authorship by God raised questions, such as, “Why then is the prediction so vague?” It felt very Nostradamus-esque.
I had a bit of an epiphany this week when I was listening to the first chapter of Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet’s Jesus Manifesto.
Here’s a quote from the book that I found to be extraordinarily illuminating:
Have you ever noticed how the New Testament writers quoted the Hebrew scriptures? Go back to the Old Testament and read the quoted texts. You will learn that the New Testament writers were using a method of interpretation that would drive most textual critics insane. It isn’t at all modern. It’s as if they were reading the texts out of context. But they weren’t. They were reading it through the lens of Christ.
Viola and Sweet go on to demonstrate that Jesus is continuously portrayed throughout the old testament. The new testament authors, having interacted with Jesus and having glimpsed a vision of who He is, began to understand that His story didn’t begin in Bethlehem. It began before space and time existed. His presence permeates the world we live in. His story was foreshadowed throughout the entire old testament—not merely in a few specific, predictive prophecies. To me, this is a mind-blowing concept.
Back in 2012, Viola and Sweet were interviewed by Ed Stetzer of Christianity Today on their companion volume Jesus: A Theography. During the interview, Viola stated that “readers can clearly see how the story of Jesus in the Second Testament replays the entire story of the First Testament over and over again. One of the main themes we demonstrate throughout the book is that Jesus doesn’t just complete the story of Adam and Israel. He repeats it.” Full disclosure, I’ve not read either of these books (yet), but if I understand Frank correctly, Jesus essentially relived the lives of Adam, Jacob, Israel, and David—only He lived them perfectly, succeeding where each of the others failed.
Imagine, humans being given a mission by God, and each in turn fails miserably. Then, in order to redeem humanity, the Son of God becomes the Son of Man and relives the lives of each of his predecessors. As He lives the perfect life, He begins to undo the harm we have done throughout history.
So I guess I wasn’t crazy. I was just ignorant of the extent of Jesus’ presence in our universe and the extent to which he is involved in our story. The story of God’s interaction with mankind is replete with images of Jesus. The accounts of the creation of the world, Adam, Jacob, the Israelite nation, the places where God interacted with His people, their greatest king—David, and many others offer microcosmic glimpses of The One who is mankind’s only true king. I’m awestruck, and I’m barely scratching the surface.
When we read the bible through the lens of Jesus Christ, the petty details that divide us and the squabbling over whose interpretation of the bible is more correct become unimportant, and the Centerpiece of human existence emerges and becomes everything.