The Value of Messianic Prophecy
The Value of Messianic Prophecy
By David M. Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This essay is free for distribution in any manner, with the provision that it remains completely intact, with this notice, the author's name and the full text of the essay. Any comments are gratefully welcomed. Copyright 1995.
THE VALUE OF MESSIANIC PROPHECY
There is a great importance, value and use of Messianic prophecy in all
ages of human history, from the original hearers, through the New Testament
times, and to mankind today. It is a topic very much worthy of
Before this may be discussed, however, it is important to define just
what is meant by the terms 'Messiah' and 'Messianic prophecy', as well as
what these terms do not mean, in relation to some contemporary thought.
Smith states that:
The term Messiah is derived from the root mashach which
almost always points to the consecration of objects to
sacred purposes by means of anointing oil. The verb is
used of the anointing of objects such as the Tabernacle,
altar and laver. The noun mashiach, however, is only used
of individuals. Etymologically, then, the Messiah is the
Anointed One. . . . The Hebrew term Messiah and the Greek
term Christ are synonyms.
The term Messiah means more than just this, however. It is also "used
as the official title of the central figure of expectation ", the "special
title of the Saviour promised to the world through the people of Israel ".
This definition is not accepted by all, for example, Mowinckel, who states
"The title 'Messiah', 'the Anointed One', as a title or technical term for
the king of the future age, does not even occur in the Old Testament. " As
Smith comments, "Such an assessment is based on a critical view of the Old
Testament which disallows any Messianic concept prior to the exile. "
Certainly Becker claims that "a preexilic messianic movement is an untenable
hypothesis ", and even goes further to state that "there was not even such a
thing as messianic expectation until the last two centuries B.C. ".
Ignoring these arguments for the present, it is possible to use this
definition of the Messiah to define Messianic prophecies, therefore, as Old
Testament passages which speak of a glorious Prophet, Priest or King to come,
around whom a golden age and a glorious future would centre. There are many
such prophecies in the Old Testament. Edersheim listed 456 passages which
were interpreted as Messianic in ancient Jewish literature . Many cannot
accept this, claiming that there are no original predictive references to
Jesus Christ in the Old Testament, and hence, no actual fulfilments of such
prophecy by Christ. Mowinckel has influenced many with his obsession of
comparing ancient religions, and his conclusion that significant similarities
exist between the Caananite divine Ascension festival and the Jewish new year
festival. He believes that the term Messiah refers to "the reigning king of
Israel " alone. The Messianic prophecies he sees as relating only to the
role of the king at this festival. Bentzen describes this in some detail:
The Festival of Yahweh's Ascension to his Throne on New
Year's Day, which Mowinckel finds reflected in these
[Psalms 47, 93 and 95-100] and related psalms, is
described on the lines of a "ritual drama" with the re-
creation of the world as its central theme. In the ritual
drama of the New Year Festival at the time of the autumn
equinox, Israel experienced a repetition of the events at
the Creation of the world - God's fight against the powers
of Chaos, the primeval ocean, Rahab, the Dragon and their
attendant host of demons. This Divine fight ends in the
defeat of the enemies of God and precedes the creation of
the heavenly vault as the strong protection against the
powers of Chaos, the "Sea" and the "Flood". The creation
of the Heavens is God's decisive act of salvation and the
proof of His power over all other gods. . . . In the
festival, this act of salvation was re-experienced by the
people, through the religious act of "remembrance",
anamnesis. "To remember" the saving facts of religion
means to the Ancient World that these facts are tangibly
experienced, that the members of the congregation, to use
an expression from Kierkegaard, "become contemporary" with
the fundamental act of salvation in the history of the
Ringgren elaborates further:
The Norwegian scholar Mowinckel has shown the probability
that Old Testament eschatology came into being when the
hopes for a happy new year with blessing and prosperity,
originally bound up with the Enthronement Festival of
Yahweh - the New Year Festival - were transferred into the
future. That which was not realized in the course of the
year gradually became a hope for the future. The same is
true of the hope for the Messiah. As the king occupied an
important position at the New Year Festival as the
representative of God and as the guarantee of a good new
year, the Messiah, the future king, is given a central
place in Israel's expectations for the future as the
bearer of divine salvation. . . . If we suppose that such
great things were expected from every new king, we can
easily understand that these expectations failed from time
to time and finally were transferred to an ideal ruler in
the future. This is the origin of Israelite messianism
according to several modern scholars.
Bentzen takes this line of reasoning so far as to say "we have no right at
all to doubt that in principle the king of Israel was considered an elohim. "
The problem with much of this logic is that it is heavily dependant on
ancient religions contemporary with Judaism. For example, Bentzen justifies
himself by claiming "Scholars generally agree that the king of Israel has
been invested with the same divine qualities as elsewhere in the Ancient
East. " Ringgren appeals to writings about King Hammurabi of Babylon,
Ashurbanipal, and Esarhaddon, assuming the king of Israel to be seen by the
Jewish people in the same way . This sort of reasoning cannot be seriously
taken as reliable. Further, Motyer urges "that it is hardly credible that
the monarchs known to us in the book of Kings could have been seriously
addressed or thought of in the terms used, for example, in the royal Psalms",
rather, we "find good reasons to hold that such a hope [for an actual
Messiah] was early embraced by the chosen people, taking its rise from the
famous 'protoevangelium' of Gn. 3:15. " Finally, although scholars following
Mowinckel such as Becker claim that it "must be kept in mind that expectation
of a messiah does not seem to have been a general feature of Judaism. . . the
messiah was more a peripheral figure ", the very reputable and trustworthy
scholar Alfred Edersheim states in stark contrast:
Apart from the repulsively carnal form which it had taken,
there is something absolutely sublime in the continuance
and intensity of the Jewish expectation of the Messiah. It
outlived not only the delay of long centuries, but the
persecutions and scattering of the people; it continued
under the disappointment of the Maccabees, the rule of a
Herod, the administration of a corrupt and contemptible
Priesthood, and, finally, the government of Rome as
represented by a Pilate; nay, it grew in intensity almost
in proportion as it seemed unlikely of realisation. These
are facts which show that the doctrine of the Kingdom, as
the sum and substance of Old Testament teaching, was the
very heart of Jewish religious life. . . . "
Certainly the Samaritan woman at the well expected a Messiah , as did the
chief priests and teachers of the law . There is no scriptural support for
any of the ideas of Mowinckel or his followers.
With these definitions, it is now possible to discuss the importance,
value and use of Messianic prophecy upon the original hearers.
Firstly, Messianic prophecy would have provided great hope for its
original hearers. No sooner had Adam and Eve, for example, received
judgement from God for their disobedient actions than a redeemer was
proclaimed. "A gleam of grace shines through the gloom of divine
retribution. " Scholem sees this as actually a weakness of Messianism,
however, referring to "the price demanded by Messianism" which he sees as
causing "the endless powerlessness in Jewish history during all the centuries
of exile" because there:
is something grand about living in hope, but at the same
time there is something profoundly unreal about it. It
diminishes the singular worth of the individual, and he
can never fulfil himself, because the incompleteness of
his endeavours eliminates precisely what constitutes its
highest value. Thus in Judaism the Messianic idea has
compelled a life lived in deferment, in which nothing can
be done definitely, nothing can be irrevocably
Perhaps Scholem's thoughts are meritable - as Proverbs 13:12 begins, "Hope
deferred maketh the heart sick". However, Scholem has not taken into account
that the Messianic hope is both a real and a justified hope. The proverb
concludes, "but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life" and this is
indeed the case with the Messianic hope of the Old Testament.
Secondly, Smith sees that "Messianic prophecy was also one means of
promoting genuine piety and true devotion to God. Messiah would punish the
ungodly and reward the godly. This conviction helped sustain the faithful
remnant throughout Old Testament history. "
Thirdly, the Messianic prophecies were "a means of sustaining the faith
of God's people in times of great calamity. " The quickness of the fall of
Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple greatly affected the faith of
God's people. However, the prophets through the exile were able to put these
tragedies into their proper perspective as part of God's long-range purpose.
Fourthly, Messianic prophecy "also served to prepare Israel for the
grafting in of Gentile peoples. . . . With the coming of Messiah peoples from
all nations could and would be incorporated into the family of God. "
The value of Messianic prophecy was also most considerable in New
Testament times. In fact, Smith sees the very chief purpose of Messianic
prophecy as being in these times, prior to Jesus' resurrection:
The chief purpose, of course, was to prepare the way for
Christ so that when he should come, he might be identified
by a comparison of the prediction with its fulfilment.
Jesus regarded the evidence of prophecy as sufficient in
itself to prove his claims. He reproved the Jews for
failure to recognize the fulfilment as it unfolded before
Secondly, Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament brought about an
expectation. Smith gives many evidences that this expectation was at a great
height at the time of Jesus , as does Edersheim . Cairns comments, "The
expectancy of many Christians today regarding the second coming of Christ
helps one to realize the atmosphere of expectancy in the Jewish world
concerning the coming of the Messiah. " This expectancy led many to receive
Jesus' message - the woman at the well and the Samaritans , and the apostle
Andrew , for example. Smith states, "Many thousands were convinced through
the exposition of Messianic prophecy in the light of Gospel facts that Jesus
was the Messiah. Even prominent Pharisees like Paul and Nicodemus as well as
many priests (Acts 6:7) were among the earliest converts. "
It seems so odd after this, however, that many living at the time of
Jesus were blinded to His identity. Edersheim explains one reason for this,
"the general conception which the Rabbis had formed of the Messiah, differed
totally from what was presented by the Prophet of Nazareth. " However, as
The rabbis' modern picture of the Messiah contradicts much
of their own scriptural commentaries down through history
(such as the Midrashic and Talmudic commentaries.) What is
significant is that their own scriptural commentary paints
a picture of the Messiah which fits none other than Jesus
hence, Messianic prophecy also serves to warn us about our interpretations of
prophecy. In these times, with a greater interest in eschatology, it is
quite conceivable that many who are greatly dogmatic about their
interpretation of such as the restrainer who must be removed before the Anti-
Christ can be revealed, or the mark of the beast, may in fact miss these
things when they take place, expecting something quite different. As Daniel
12:9 warns us, some things are just not understandable at present, and will
not be until their time of fulfilment. Thus, although good theology is a
virtue, on some matters it may not be too wise to be strongly dogmatic and
After Jesus' resurrection, Messianic prophecy has other uses. In
particular, it proved completely Jesus' Messiahship, once His life could be
examined as a whole. Smith appeals to but three prophecies to give a broad
outline of this argument. He first considers Genesis 49:10, "The sceptre
shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until
Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be" making the
The date here fixed for the coming of Shiloh was not to
exceed the time that the descendants of Judah were to
continue as a united people, that should be governed by
their own laws, and should have their own judges from
among their brethren. Such was the case up to A.D. 70,
but not since.
Smith next considers Daniel 9:25, "from the going forth of the commandment to
restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven
weeks, and threescore and two weeks". Daniel's sixty-nine sets of seven
years have clearly long since elapsed. Finally, Smith considers Haggai 2:7-
9, "I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come. . . .
The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the former." Smith
The glory here is most likely a reference to the
Messiah , for in physical glory the second Temple was far
inferior to the first. The symbols and tokens of God's
special presence were also missing in the second Temple.
That the Desire of Nations here is Messiah is supported by
Malachi 3:1 where he comes suddenly to his Temple. The
Messiah, then, must enter the second Temple. But that
Temple has been destroyed for almost two thousand years.
Smith's logic in presenting these three verses is that the time of the
Messiah's coming is clearly past. In fact, it was past by 70 A.D.! Only one
person could have been the Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth was of the right
lineage. He came within Daniel's seventy heptads. He performed miracles.
He was despised, rejected and slain, and He rose from the dead. Thus, to any
intelligent person since the very early date of 70 A.D., Messianic prophecy
reveals Jesus to have been the Messiah. Ankerberg et. al. quote Irwin
Linton, a distinguished lawyer, who states:
So invariable had been my observation that he who does not
accept wholeheartedly the evangelical, conservative belief
in Christ and the scriptures has never read, has
forgotten, or never been able to weigh - and certainly is
utterly unable to refute - the irresistible force of the
cumulative evidence upon which such faith rests, that
there seems ample ground for the conclusion that such
ignorance is an invariable element in such belief.
Messianic prophecy is further relevant to today's times. Of course,
many of the above values and uses of Messianic prophecy do apply today.
However, in this current age there are some applications which have not
Firstly, in this time of rationalisation, atheism and humanism,
"Messianic prophecy - and indeed, all predictive prophecy - lends strong
support to the claim of the Scriptures to be the Word of God. " No apologist
could afford to disregard this topic. Certainly the noted apologist Steve
Kumar comments, "The successful fulfilment of these prophecies are valid
proof of divine direction and supernatural assistance. " In fact, it is
possible to take this further. Not only does Messianic prophecy show the
inspiration of the Scriptures, it also goes to prove the existence of God, a
proof which any atheist would find difficult to combat on humanistic grounds.
Secondly, Messianic prophecy gives a basis for Christian theology.
Manson states that Jesus' Messiahship "is the absolute presupposition of the
Church's tradition and the substratum of the Christian theology in all later
forms of its development. "
Thirdly, we may have a confidence and a trust in God. The Bible still
contains prophecy that is unfulfilled, but as Ankerberg et. al. state, "On
the basis of what has taken place, one may confidently expect that God will
bring about the rest. " This does not only apply to eschatological
expectation. The Psalmist declares, "The LORD will fulfil his purpose for
me " - we have a personal hope. We can be assured that God is interested in
us individually. We know we can believe Jesus when He said our heavenly
Father has counted the very hairs on our head , and we can believe Paul when
he boomed forth his five great, unanswerable questions .
Fourthly, Messianic prophecy shows that we must receive the Messiah.
Jesus came to "seek and save what was lost. " This He indeed did. Isaiah
prophecies, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for
our iniquities. . . . the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. " It
is now up to us to respond to this act of grace. We must:
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he
is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man
his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have
mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon .
To all who receive Him, to those who believe in His name, He gives the right
to become children of God - children who will not perish but have everlasting
Thus, as may be seen, Messianic prophecy is a most important area of
study and discussion. Its values and uses are very significant. Indeed, it
"is spread over all the literature of the Old Testament as the thread of
light that binds its writings into an organism of redemption. " It allows us
to say, with confidence, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. "
Ankerberg, John, John Weldon and Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. The
Case for Jesus The Messiah. Melbourne: Pacific College
Study Series, 1994.
Becker, Joachim. Messianic Expectation in the Old Testament.
Translated by David Green. Philadelphia: Fortress Press,
Bentzen, Aage. King And Messiah. 2d ed. Edited by G.W.
Anderson. London: Lutterworth Press, 1970.
Bruce, F. F., ed. The Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Vol. 2,
Messiah, by J. A. Motyer. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press,
Cairns, Earle E. Christianity Through The Centuries. Rev. ed.
Michigan: Academie Books, 1981.
Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah.
Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.
Kumar, Steve and John Heininger. Christianity for Skeptics.
Auckland: Worldwise Communications, 1987.
Manson, William. Jesus The Messiah. London: Hodder and
Mowinckel, Samuel. He That Cometh. Translated by G.W.
Anderson. New York: Abingdon Press, 1954
Ringgren, Helmer. The Messiah in the Old Testament. London:
SCM Press Ltd., 1956.
Scholem, Gershom. The Messianic Idea in Judaism. London:
George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1971.
Smith, James. The Promised Messiah. Nashville: Thomas Nelson,
James Smith, The Promised Messiah (Nashville: Thomas Nelson
Publishers, 1993), 1-2.
The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1980 ed., s.v. "Messiah."
Smith, op. cit., 1.
Samuel Mowinckel, He That Cometh, translated by G.W. Anderson
(New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), 4.
Smith, op. cit., 2.
Joachim Becker, Messianic Expectation in the Old Testament,
translated by David Green (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 35.
Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah
(Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), 980-1010.
Mowinckel, op. cit., 4.
Aage Bentzen, King and Messiah, edited by G.W. Anderson, 2d.
ed. (London: Lutterworth Press, 1970), 11-12.
Helmer Ringgren, The Messiah in the Old Testament (London: SCM
Press Ltd., 1956), 21-23.
Bentzen, op. cit., 19.
Ringgren, op. cit., 20-22.
The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1980 ed., s.v. "Messiah"
Becker, op. cit., 87-88.
Edersheim, op. cit., 214.
Smith, op. cit., 39.
Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism (London: George
Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1971), 35.
Smith, op. cit., 10-11.
Edersheim, op. cit., 214.
Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Centuries, rev. ed.
(Michigan: Academie Books, 1981), 41.
John 4:25-26, 28-29, 39-42.
Smith, op. cit., 13.
Edersheim, op. cit., 113.
John Ankerberg, John Walter and John Kaiser, The Case for Jesus the
Messiah (Melbourne: Pacific College Study Series, 1994), 92.
Disregarding, of course, the pre-tribulation rapture, for example
Smith, op. cit., 35.
Smith also points out that the force of this passage is not greatly
reduced even if "desire" here is not taken to refer to the Messiah personally.
In that case, the prophect looks forward to glorification of the second
Temple which cannot be looked for under any "Messiah" yet to appear.
Smith, op. cit., 36.
Ankerberg et. al., op. cit., 125-6.
Smith, op. cit., 11.
Steve Kumar and John Heininger, Christianity for Skeptics
(Auckland: Worldwise Communications, 1987), 64.
William Manson, Jesus the Messiah (London: Hodder & Stoughton,
Ankerberg et. al., op. cit., 102.
John 1:12, 3:16.
Smith, op. cit., 4.