Some object the evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, and thus God, is inadequate. Three specific concerns are often raised. If one or more of these objections can be sustained, this piece of evidence for the deity of Christ crumbles. So what are these objections, and do they have any validity?
Objection 1: Since These Prophecies Were Known, Couldn’t Jesus Plan to Fulfill Them?
These messianic prophecies were well known during Jesus’ life. Each of the messianic prophecies discussed last week, as well as many more, were understood by first-century Jews to be pointing toward their coming Messiah. Therefore, some have argued that Jesus simply found creative ways to “fulfill” these prophecies, since he knew what had to be done to be revered as the Messiah. This objection was raised by H.J. Schonfield in his The Passover Plot, published in 1967.
A person could certainly figure out how to fulfill some of the messianic prophecies. For instance, it was prophesied that the Messiah would speak in parables (Psalm 78:2). So Jesus could easily tailor his speech to fit this prophecy. Additionally, the Messiah was foretold to enter Jerusalem on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). Jesus could have certainly known this, headed toward Jerusalem, rented himself a donkey, and “fulfilled” this prophecy.
So let’s rule out all prophecies that he could have arranged to meet. After these are set aside, we are still left with many other prophecies related to his birth and death that it would have been impossible for him to arrange fulfilling.
Therefore, in my previous article, I discussed only prophecies dealing with the Messiah’s birth and death. The probability of fulfilling the eight prophecies I discussed last week is 1 in 10 to the 17th power. These are the same odds as covering the state of Texas with two feet of silver dollars, painting just one silver dollar red, blindfolding a person, and asking him to walk in any direction, as far as he chooses, and then pick up just one silver dollar. The odds of him selecting the one red silver dollar are the same as one person fulfilling these eight Messianic prophecies by coincidence. It is not reasonable to conclude either the silver-dollar selection or fulfillment of these prophecies could occur by chance.
Furthermore, even if someone could arrange fulfilling these prophecies, why would he want to? The prophecies surrounding His death are ghastly. A person facing execution would have long given up a ploy to convince others he was the Messiah once this fate was clear. This is further reason to conclude Jesus’ fulfillment of these prophecies is due to him being who he claimed to be.
Objection 2: The Prophecies Were Made Just Before or Even After Jesus’ Life
Some have objected that these “prophecies” were written just before Jesus’ time, and therefore were intelligent guesses. The writers were able to read the “signs of the times” and therefore predict these events. Or perhaps they were written after Jesus did these things, and so the “prophecies” were written looking back. In either case, these are not really fulfillments of prophecies at all.
This objection belies little understanding of history. These prophecies were recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures over a 1000-year period, completed most probably by 450 B.C. Some want to push the completion of the Hebrew Scriptures up a bit, but they agree they were completed by at least 250 B.C.
One compelling piece of evidence for this completion date is the translation of the Septuagint (the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, sometimes referred to as “LXX” due to it being translated by 70 scholars.) We know this translation project began during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.) Therefore the Hebrew Scriptures had to exist before this date for them to be translated into Greek. Therefore the Hebrew Scriptures, containing these prophecies, were written at least 250 years before Jesus’ birth. This second objection can be put to rest.
Objection 3: Jesus Did Not Fulfill All the Messianic Prophecies
A common objection is that Jesus only fulfilled some of the Messianic prophecies, but the real Messiah will fulfill them all. Therefore Jesus was not the Messiah.
Beyond the problem this objection has in explaining how one person can fulfill even the eight Messianic prophecies discussed last week, there is a second issue this objection overlooks. A careful reading of the Messianic prophecies reveals two distinct types of prophecy. One type reveals a humble, suffering Messiah, and the other type speaks of an exalted, reigning Messiah.
For instance, some passages, including some discussed last week, speak of a Messiah whose face will be disfigured, who will be hated and rejected by many, who will know much suffering, will be harmed and ultimately will be killed:
Just as there were many who were appalled at him-- his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness-- ...He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 52:13 to 53:9)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and I am not silent. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 8 "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him."... I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. (Psalm 22:1-21)
Yet there are other passages painting a very different picture—one of the Messiah receiving great glory and being worshipped by all, and one who would rule over an eternal, universal kingdom:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
These prophecies clearly paint two distinct pictures of the Messiah. The text itself gives no indication the Messiah will fulfill all the prophecies at one time. In fact, it is hard to see how both sets of prophecy could have been fulfilled in one appearance. The original hearers understood this, and assumed there would be two appearances of the Messiah. It was not until the Inter-testamental period (the 400 years between the writing of the last book of the Old Testament and the first book of the New Testament) that Jews developed the idea of the Messiah fulfilling all prophecies in one advent.
It is more reasonable to follow the interpretation of the original audience, as well as the more logical assumption—that there would need to be two appearances of the Messiah to fulfill these two distinct types of prophecy. Therefore Jesus not fulfilling all the second type of prophecies concerning the Messiah’s reign is to be expected, as those are to be fulfilled in his second appearance.
Furthermore, since Jesus fulfilled all the first type of prophecies (concerning the Messiah’s humiliation/suffering) and some of the second type (concerning the Messiah’s exaltation) via his résurrection (to be discussed in next week’s article), it is even more reasonable to believe He is the Messiah. We can reasonably look forward to him fulfilling these final exaltation prophecies during his second advent. This third objection fails.
With no reasonable objections sustained, it is most probable Jesus is the Messiah, based on his fulfillment of the eight prophecies related to his birth and death discussed last week. Yet there is another, perhaps even stronger piece of evidence that Jesus is God—his bodily resurrection three days after his execution. Next week I’ll discuss this, as well as the third premise in the argument for inerrancy: As God, Jesus would not lie or mislead; therefore all he said is True.
Until then, grace and peace.
For further reading see Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.