Jesus in Old Testament Prophecy — Class Handout

Preface for blog: Below is a set of notes for a church discussion of Christian interpretation of certain Old Testament passages. I drew these up several years ago, and am posting them here now, unedited.

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Jesus in Old Testament Prophecy  — Class Handout

Scott Buchanan, 2017

( 1 ) The Promised Messiah

( 1.1 ) Some background on Old Testament figures

  • Abraham ~2000 B.C.
  • Isaac
  • Jacob (also called “Israel”)
  • Twelve tribes of Israel (Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, Levi, etc.)
  • Moses led people of Israel out of Egypt, to the land of Israel. God gave Law through Moses, around 1400 B.C.
  • David (son of Jesse, of the tribe of Judah) became king of Israel about 1000 B.C. He also authored many Psalms.
  • Most of the prophets who wrote books in the Old Testament, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah, were active around 500-700 B.C.
  • After most of other tribes of Israel got carried away by foreign conquerors around 700 B.C., the people of Judah (the “Jews”) were the main remnant in the land of Israel.

 (1.2 ) Some Key Events in Jesus’ Life

  • Born in Bethlehem, as a descendent of David (and thus of Abraham and Jacob and Jesse)  (~ 4 B.C)
  • Family later returned to Nazareth, in Galilee
  • Jesus baptized by John the Baptizer, and started public ministry in Galilee (~ 27 A.D.)
  • Went around teaching righteousness and wisdom, and healing people. Claimed to be the unique Son of God, and said that he would give his life “as a ransom for many”.
  • Arrested, crucified, buried. Then resurrected and seen by many witnesses. (~ 30 A.D)
  • Sent the Holy Spirit in his stead to be with and in each believer.  (~ 30 A.D, and thereafter).

( 1.4 )  The Messiah Foretold

Prophecies in the Old Testament foretell the coming of an extraordinary man who would undo mankind’s separation from God, and ultimately bring peace and justice to the whole world.

Some predictions indicate this Messiah (or “Christ”, in Greek) will be powerful, and will have dominion over nations. Other prophecies describe a suffering Servant who gives his life to save others. Jesus fulfills both these roles.

Jesus is thought to have fulfilled over a hundred prophecies about the Messiah, including where he would come from and what he would do. See below.

( 2 ) Prophecies which specify the family line and the  nature of the Messiah

(2.1) Messiah from Israelites (descendants of Jacob); a prophet like Moses.

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.”     [Deut. 18:18 NIV]

Note: Many parallels between Jesus and Moses.

(2.2) Messiah from lineage of Jesse (the father of David); Spirit of the Lord rests on him; his reign will lead to widespread knowledge of God and even alternations in nature itself

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—  the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.  [Isaiah 11:1-2]

….And the wolf will live with the lamb,  the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together;  and a little child will lead them.

…They will neither harm nor destroy  on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord  as the waters cover the sea.        [Isaiah 11:6,9]

 (2.3) Messiah from lineage of David; righteous ruler;  called “The Lord [is] our righteousness”, indicating his righteousness will be applied for us.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.

In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.”   [Jer. 23:5-6 ]

( 3 ) Prophecies which specify the location and nature of the Messiah

(3.1) Comes from Bethlehem; ruler for God over Israel; existed ages before he makes his human appearance.

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. [Micah 5:2 NIV]

A more literal translation is given in the New American Standard Bible:

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.   His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. [Micah 5:2 NASB]

(3.2) Messiah to appear in Galilee; comes as a child, but “the government will be on his shoulders”. He is called “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”; his rule of peace will grow and last forever.

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness    a light has dawned…

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 greatness [or “increase”] of his government and peace there will be no end

 [ Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7a]

 ( 3.3 ) Messiah is a victorious king, but humble, riding on a donkey instead of a war-horse. He is righteous. He establishes his rule, not by force, but peacefully. His rule will be over the whole world, not just limited to one nation.

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.  

His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. [Zech. 9:9-10]


( a ) As a group at each table, try to identify and underline various ways that Jesus fulfilled the details in the prophecies above. 

( b) Ordinary kings establish their rule over some limited area by military force.  How is the Messiah in these predictions different from an ordinary king?  How is he different from an ordinary mortal human being?    

( c )  Jesus was clear that his kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36) and would not be a political entity established by force. Instead, his rule is in the hearts of people who receive his love and who follow him voluntarily. Christianity started with a handful of men and women who were totally discouraged after their leader was executed, but then got energized after they had multiple convincing encounters with him in a risen form. These were largely uneducated, unimportant folks, confronting a world of established religions.

Since that time, the community of those who call Jesus their Lord has continually grown, mainly by peaceful persuasion, to embrace all nations on earth.  According to Wikipedia, today Jesus has  “over 2.4 billion followers, or 32% of the global population.”  Allowing for some figurative language, how does this observation match up with some of the prophecies above about Messiah’s rule?  

( 4 ) Isaiah 53: The righteous Servant of the Lord will die for the sins of the people, then come back to life.

( 4.1 ) The human dilemma: God is completely righteous, but we are not. Our sins create a barrier to genuine relationship with Him.

1Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
     your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
[Isaiah 59:12]

( 4.2 ) Prologue to Isaiah 53: God declares that the Servant of the Lord will ultimately be exalted, and honored among the Gentiles, but only after dreadful personal suffering.

Chapter 52

13See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,   and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,  and what they have not heard, they will understand.
[Isaiah 52:12-15]

 ( 4.3 ) Isaiah confesses on behalf of Israel that they rejected the Servant in his life (chapter 53, verses 1-3) as well as in his death (verses 7-9), because they misjudged the meaning of his death; they assumed he died for his own sins, but in fact he died for their sins. His wounding brings healing to us, his punishment brings justification for us and his death brings life for us.

Chapter 53. 

1 Who has believed our message  and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,  and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,   a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces  he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
   stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,each of us has turned to our 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 its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.
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.


( a ) These two verses from Isaiah 59, which we read earlier, talk about a problem that humans have when it comes to relating to a totally good God. How would you describe this problem?

1Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
     your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
[Isaiah 59:12]

( b) Looking at the verses above from Isaiah 53, what does God do to solve this problem?

( c) Paul wrote about Jesus, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” (II Cor. 5:19).

 Jesus said about himself, that he came not to be served, but “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)   

How do these two statements relate to the Isaiah 53 passage?

What does it mean that Jesus gave his life “as a ransom”?

( 4.4) Prediction of resurrection in the victorious epilogue for Isaiah 53: After offering his life for the sins of others, the Servant will come back to life and be honored and be satisfied with the fruits of his sacrifice.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied
      by his knowledge
[or “by knowledge of him”] my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
           because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. 
[Isaiah 53:10-12]

This would apply to Jesus coming back to triumphant life after dying as a sin offering. The New Testament puts it this way: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2b).


What do you think was “the joy set before him” in Heb. 12:2 and the outcome that “satisfied” him in Isaiah 53:11 , after suffering and dying for the sins of others?

( 4.5 )  More on a suffering Messiah (from Zechariah): God himself will be “pierced”; the descendants of David and other people in Jerusalem will mourn over this.

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on [or “look to”]  Me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.  [Zech. 12:10]

( 5 ) A New Covenant Promised: A New Heart and God’s Spirit in Us To Enable Godly Living;  Forgiveness of Sins

( 5.1 ) From Isaiah:  Those who repent will encounter the Redeemer; New Covenant involves God’s Spirit being with His people, and putting godly words in their mouths and the mouths of their children:

20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the Lord.

21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.  [Isaiah 59:20-21]

( 5.2 ) From Jeremiah:  A New Covenant, not like Law of Moses; God’s ways written in our hearts, so no need to be externally pressured to follow Him; sins covered:

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant
        with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt,
    because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.
        I will be their God, and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,  or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” [Jeremiah 31:31-34]

( 5.3 ) From Ezekiel,  more on the  new covenant – – “David” will be shepherd ; God will give them a new heart and put His own Spirit in them, enabling godly living:

23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.    [Ezek 34:23-24]

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.     [Ezek 36:26-27]


( a) What is most interesting to you about these descriptions of the New Covenant?

( b ) How does the New Covenant differ from the earlier regime of trying to obey the Law given through Moses?

( c) What is the role of God’s Spirit here?

( 6 ) Old Testament Sacrifices and Messianic Psalms Foreshadow the Career of Jesus

 ( 6.1 ) Old Testament sacrificial system foreshadowed the substitutionary death of Jesus

There are a number of animal sacrifices in the Old Testament law for sins, which illustrated and foreshadowed the sacrifice of the perfect Son of God. Jesus was described in the New Testament as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. See Hebrews 7-10 and Galatians 3-4 for more on this.

( 6.2 ) Psalm 22 graphically depicts what happened to Jesus on the cross

Some Psalms have a double meaning – they may refer to things in David’s own life, but sometimes veer into predicting or describing things that never happened with David, but do apply to the Messiah. This portion of Psalm 22 is an example.

1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.
     My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
      you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me;
       they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
[Psalm 22:1,7-8,14-18]

Compare with the description of the crucifixion of Jesus in Mark 15:24-34 to see that many details are identical (e.g. mocking and insults; crucifixion involved piercing hands and feed,  bones going out of joint, and eventually great thirst; casting lots for clothing; the cry of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”):

24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left… 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). [Mark 15:24-34]

( 6.3 ) A resurrection prophecy, from Psalm 16.  God’s Holy One will not stay dead for long:

This verse claims that God’s Holy One would be resurrected soon after dying, so his body would not decay. This did not happen to David himself, but it did happen with Jesus who was the new David.

For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol [i.e. the realm of the dead]; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.  [Psalm 16:10 NASB]

( 6.4) Psalm 110 – – Messiah is not an ordinary human descendant of David; Melchizedek priesthood.

The Lord says to my Lord:

“Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
[Psalm 110:1,4]

Although the Messiah is David’s “son”, in writing this psalm David describes the Messiah as his (David’s) “Lord”. Therefore the Messiah cannot be an ordinary human descendant, since no sitting monarch would refer to his child or grandchild as his “Lord”.

The Messiah is appointed as a priest “forever” in the order of Melchizedek, which is a higher order than the priesthood of Aaron. It’s complicated. See Hebrews 7 for discussion of how this applies to Jesus.

( 6.5 ) Other parallels to Jesus throughout the Old Testament

The New Testament repeatedly claims that the whole Old Testament, properly understood, reveals the saving work of Jesus the Messiah (e.g. Luke 24:44-47, John 5:39-46;  I Cor 10:4,11;  II Tim 3:15; I Peter 1:10-12).  If you know what to look for, there are dozens and dozens of illustrations and prefigurings of the work of Jesus hidden in the stories of the Old Testament. For instance, when the people of Israel were dying of thirst in the desert, Moses (Exodus 17) struck a rock with the staff of God, and the rock split open and out came life-giving pure water. This illustrates (symbolically, of course), Jesus (who is prophetically pictured as a rock) being smitten and his broken body resulted in the outpouring of the living water of salvation and the Holy Spirit.

Similarly, the lifting up of the image of a cursed being (a snake) on a wooden pole by Moses in the wilderness during Israel’s exodus wanderings led to the healing of the sinful people who looked to that spectacle (Number 21:4-8), and Jesus likened his coming crucifixion on a wooden post, where he would bear the curse of sin for his people, to that episode:  “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. “  (John 3:14-15)

As another example, Joseph was betrayed and mistreated by those who should have loved him (his older brothers), was sold to be a slave in Egypt, behaved righteously but was falsely accused, was punished as though he was a criminal, but eventually was raised to the right hand of the great king. From that position Joseph forgave his brothers and used his powers to save their lives and provide bounteously for them. There are a number of parallels here with the life and work of Jesus. However, the Joseph story is not as clear a prophecy of the Messiah as some the passages discussed above, so finding the deeper meaning can be like digging for buried treasure.  The same is true for many other Old Testament episodes.

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Post-script for blog: I am aware that other folks have studied these texts and come to different conclusions. I don’t have the time or space here to present all the arguments / counter-arguments / counter-counter arguments. The main purpose in posting this handout here was to provide reference material for two subsequent articles where I summarize two talks from a 2020 Christian apologetics conference which deal with the treatment of Messiah and the Trinity in the Old Testament:

How the New Testament Sees Christ in the Old Testament: Talk by Mel Winstead [2020 NCCA Confc. 7]

Is the Old Testament Trinitarian? by Jonathan McLatchie [2020 NCCA Confc. 8]

About Scott Buchanan

Ph D chemical engineer, interested in intersection of science with my evangelical Christian faith. This intersection includes creation(ism) and miracles. I also write on random topics of interest, such as economics, theology, folding scooters, and composting toilets, at . Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, a year at seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Since then, conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and an inventor on over 100 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas. Now retired and repurposed as a grandparent.
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3 Responses to Jesus in Old Testament Prophecy — Class Handout

  1. rickpulling says:

    Scott – Thanks for these reference points for “Jesus in Old Testament Prophecy”. I wish you and Grace lived closer to us so that we could jointly lead a Bible study on this topic. Hoping to see you in a couple of weeks, Rick Pulling

  2. Pingback: How the New Testament Sees Christ in the Old Testament: Talk by Mel Winstead [2020 NCCA Confc. 7] | Letters to Creationists

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