My Christmas Thoughts have taken me to the prophecies in the Old Testament of the coming Messiah. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Christ, which is the Greek term for Messiah. Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament, and he said the Old Testament is about him.[i]
The concept of a Messiah is unique to the Abrahamic religions. A messiah is a savior or liberator of a people Group. The Messiah predicted in the Old Testament (Tanahk) is the Savior of the Jewish people, and he is the Savior of the world. The Messianic prediction goes back to Abraham:
I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Gen. 22:18-10)[ii]
Both the Jews and Muslims trace their lineage and heritage back to Abraham, and Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, is traced directly back to Abraham through David. (Matthew 1:1-17)[iii] That the Messiah would come through the lineage of Judah, of whom David was a descendant, is well documented in the prophetic passages in the Old Testament writings.
When Isaac, the son of Abraham, was near the end of his life, he gathered his sons together and prophesied their future legacy. Of Judah, he said. “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs [Shiloh]; the nations will obey him.” (Gen. 49:10) The word, Shiloh, meaning, “to whom it belongs,” has long been understood in Judaism as a Messianic title.
Not only was Jesus a descendant of Abraham through the line of David, as predicted, “the scepter departed from Judah” not long after Jesus died, as Jesus himself predicted[iv], when the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, never to be rebuilt. In fact, the Jewish people did not return to control the land until 1948.
Consistent with the theme, Micah, the 8th Century prophet, predicted the Messiah would be born in the town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), the town of David’s birth as well. Jeremiah predicted before the time of the Babylonian exile in the 7th Century BC that God would “raise up for David a righteous Branch” who would be called “The Lord is our Righteousness”. (Jer. 23:5-6 and 33:15-16)
The theme that the Messiah would come from Abraham, through the line of David, was continued throughout all of the Old Testament Scriptures, and this theme reaches its fulfillment in the person of Jesus. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, when Joseph and Mary travelled to the City of David for the census. (Luke 2:1-7) Thus, the predictions of a Messiah coming from David and the Davidic town of Bethlehem were true of Jesus.
Ironically, Jesus is known and referenced as coming from the town of Nazareth, a small and insignificant village. When Jesus invited Phillip, one of the disciples, to follow him, Phillip immediately extended the invitation to Nathanael, and this interchange took place:
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46)
Nazareth in Galilee was considered a contemptible place by the Jews of the time.[v] When Nathaniel met Jesus, however, he believed and also followed him. Others, however, argued over who this Jesus was, focusing on his place of origin:
[S]ome of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. (John 7:40-44)
And the Pharisees, who knew the Messianic prophecies and expectations, scoffed at the notion that a prophet, let alone the Messiah, could come from insignificant Galilee (where Nazareth is located). (John 7:45-52) Little did they know that he was actually born in Bethlehem, which was the origin they well knew for the Messiah!
This, too, is a theme in the Scripture. As Paul says, God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; He chooses the weak things to shame the strong. (1 Cor. 1:27) This theme also goes back to the Old Testament:
The wise men are put to shame,
They are dismayed and caught;
Behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD,
And what kind of wisdom do they have? (Jer. 8:9)
The prophets were often thought to be fools, but the fools turn out to be the men other men thought were wise. That God would shed His glory and take on the form of man, His own creation, and be born in a humble manger to fulfill all that He spoke through the prophets is something no one could have forseen. But, looking back, the pieces of the puzzle fit. Those words those prophets spoke, become clear.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Is. 9:6-7)
[i] John 5:39-40 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. “
[ii] See also Gen. 17:5 (“I will make you a the father of a multitude of nations.”) and Ge. 18:18 (“Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”)
[iii] “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
“Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.
“And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
“And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
“So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.”
[iv] “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ’Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down'” (Matt.24:1-8 NIV). See also Lk.21:5-6.
Matthew 2:23. He dwelt in a city called Nazareth — Where he had formerly resided before he went to Bethlehem. Nazareth, as appears from Luke 4:29, was built upon a rock, not far from mount Tabor. The country about it, according to Antoninus the martyr, was like a paradise, abounding in wheat and fruits of all kinds. Wine, oil, and honey, of the best kind, were produced there: but it was a place so very contemptible among the Jews, that it was grown into a proverb with them, That no good thing could be expected from thence; so that by Jesus’s returning to Nazareth, and being brought up and educated in it, a way was further opened by the providence of God, for the fulfilment of the many Scriptures which foretold that he should appear in mean and despicable circumstances, and be set up as a mark of public contempt and reproach. This seems to be the most probable solution of this difficult text. He shall be called a Nazarene — That is, he shall be reputed vile and abject, and shall be despised and rejected of men, an event which many of the prophets had particularly foretold. And it is to be observed, that St. Matthew does not cite any particular prophet for these words, as he had done before, Matthew 1:22; and here, Matthew 2:15; Matthew 2:17, and in other places, but only says, this was spoken by the prophets, viz., in general, whereby, as Jerome observes, he shows that he took not the words from the prophets, but only the sense. See Psalm 69:9-10; Isaiah 53:3. Now it is certain the Nazarene was a term of contempt and infamy put upon Christ, both by the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles