Did the Old Testament predict Jesus coming into history?

Because God is sovereign over the future, he alone is capable of giving prophetic insight into the future. In great mercy, he did this for his people in the Old Testament. He detailed for them who was coming to save them, how he would come, where he would come, when he would come, and why he would come, so that they would anticipate the incarnation and salvation of Jesus Christ.

After Adam and Eve sinned, God prophesied to them that the Messiah (Jesus) would be born of a woman; he makes no reference to a father. This notable omission makes one wonder and points toward his virgin birth. This prophecy was given by God himself and was the first time the gospel was preached: “I will put enmity between you [the Serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”1

From the opening pages of the Bible, God began to reveal his plan to send his Son into human history to save sinners. Like a bud that blossoms into a flower, this revelation continues to unfold through the rest of the Scriptures. Over the next few days we will examine some examples.

Around 700 BC Isaiah prophesied exactly how Jesus would come into human history: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”2 The promise that Jesus’ mother would be a virgin who conceived by a miracle did, in fact, come true.3 Jesus’ mother, Mary, was in fact a godly young woman and chaste virgin who conceived by the miraculous power of God the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, Jesus, a name that means “he saves his people from their sins,” came as “Immanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” God became a man at the incarnation of Jesus. Matthew 1:22–23 reveals that Isaiah’s prophecy came true: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

Some contend that the prophecy in Isaiah does not refer to a virgin. They argue that the Hebrew word ‘almah (which is used in Isaiah 7:14) typically means “young woman,” not “virgin,” whereas the Hebrew word bethulah typically means “virgin.” However, there are many reasons why the verse should be read as referring to a virgin.

The word does mean a “marriageable girl” or “young woman.” But that would also mean that she was a virgin because in that day, young women were virgins. Fathers and the community protected these young women. Anyone engaged in sexual relations outside marriage were subject to possible death under the law. If there was any question about her virginity, a woman was subject to physical inspection, which we see in Deuteronomy 22:14–22.

Additionally, the word ‘almah is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to refer specifically to a young virgin woman. One clear example is Rebekah, who is described as “very attractive in appearance, a maiden [bethulah] whom no man had ever known.”4 Further in the chapter we read that Rebekah was a “virgin [almah].”5 While the two words are virtually synonymous, apparently bethulah required a bit more clarification that the woman was a virgin whereas almah did not. Furthermore, two centuries before Jesus was born, we find that the Jews understood exactly what almah means: the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, translates almah as parthenos, which unambiguously means “virgin.” Lastly, in the New Testament, Isaiah 7:14 is clearly interpreted as a prophetic promise about the birth of Jesus to Mary, who was both a young woman and a virgin.

Some critics of Christ and Christianity have said that Jesus orchestrated his life in such a way as to deceive people by appearing to fulfill prophecies about the coming Messiah. However, one thing Jesus most certainly had no control over was where he was born as he was, of course, in the womb of his mother.

Concerning Jesus’ birthplace,  in roughly  700  BC Micah prophesied that Jesus would be born in the town of Bethlehem, saying, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”6 D. A. Carson says that this verse reveals that the incarnation of Jesus was the entrance of the eternal God: “The Hebrew behind from ancient means from ‘the remotest times,’ ‘from time immemorial’ . . . when used with reference to some historical event; when it is used of God, who existed before creation, ‘everlasting’ is an appropriate translation (e.g. Ps. 90:2).”7

This prophecy was fulfilled in Luke 2:1–7. Caesar Augustus had called for a census to be taken, which required that every family register in their hometown. Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, was thus required to return to Bethlehem because he was a descendant of the family line of David. In God’s providence, this census was required right when Mary was pregnant; she journeyed with her husband from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem so that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy.

As to the timing of Jesus’ incarnation, in 400 BC Malachi prophesied, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.”8 The messenger of whom Malachi spoke was John  the Baptizer, who prepared the way for Jesus’ incarnation to bring the new covenant, and the Lord he speaks of is the Lord Jesus Christ. It is important that we are told that Jesus would come to “his temple.” Since the temple was destroyed in AD 70 and has not existed since, this places the incarnation of Jesus Christ prior to AD 70. Practically, this means that our Jewish friends who are still awaiting the coming of their Messiah missed him; they wait in vain because he has already come to his temple and brought the new covenant of salvation.9

Lastly, Isaiah prophesies in 700 BC about why Jesus would become incarnate—he is God’s arm of salvation reaching down to save sinners.10 Isaiah also says that Jesus would come from humble circumstances and suffer great sorrow and grief by men in order to deal with the human sin problem through his death, burial in a rich man’s tomb, and resurrection.11 The purpose of Jesus’ incarnation was fulfilled when, just as promised, he suffered and died in the place of sinners though he himself was sinless, was buried in a rich man’s tomb, and rose from death to make righteous the unrighteous.12

Take a few moments today to read Isaiah 52:13-53:12 written about Jesus seven hundred years before he was born on the earth.

1Gen. 3:15.
2Isa. 7:14.
3E.g., Matt. 1:18–23.
4Gen. 24:16.
5Gen. 24:43.
6Mic. 5:2.
7D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994), Mic. 5:1.
8Mal. 3:1.
9Luke 2:25–27.
10Isa. 53:1–12.
11Isa. 52:13–53:12.
12Matt. 27:38, 57–60; Luke 23–24; Acts 2:25–32.

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