Identifying the Son of God
How do the Hebrew Scriptures provide identification that is indisputable, overwhelming in proof?
WHAT is the name of God’s own Son? Can you identify him? Did you know that he has a Son? Notice how the Holy Bible raises this matter of identity at Proverbs 30:4: “Who has made all the ends of the earth to rise? What is his name and what the name of his son, in case you know?”
Although almost one-third of the world’s population profess to believe that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the Bible’s identifying requirements for God’s Son, how many of them know for a certainty? Of nearly 13,000,000 Jews in the world, how many know the prophecies about God’s Son given in the Hebrew Scriptures?
CONE OF IDENTIFICATION
Jehovah God painted a precise portrait of his Son to enable humans to identify him without fail. For wise reasons God chose to include prophecies about his Son in many of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures, not just one. These prophecies progressively narrow the identification of God’s Son, until there can be no question as to his identity. We might employ an inverted cone, a cone of identification, as it were.
At the top of the upside-down cone, where it is widest, we find the prophecies at the beginning of the Bible. These prophecies do not permit specific identification of any one individual. As the cone narrows to its apex at the bottom, prophecies progress through time and become more narrow or specific, thus limiting the number of persons who could fulfill them all. This continues until we reach the very tip of the cone, the point where the weight of Bible prophecy permits fulfillment by only one person, the Messiah, the Son of God.
In using this cone of identification, we can progress along four lines: (1) Lineage; (2) place and manner of birth; (3) nature of his work and (4) chronology.
The Bible book of Genesis begins our cone of identification at its widest point. Almighty God revealed to Abraham the Hebrew that by means of his seed all the nations of the earth would bless themselves. (Gen. 22:18) The Holy Scriptures trace this promised seed through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah, one of Jacob’s twelve sons concerning whom the prophecy said: “The scepter will not turn aside from Judah, neither the commander’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to him the obedience of the people will belong.” (Gen. 49:10) Here the Messiah is identified as coming from the royal tribe of Judah.
Through the prophet Jeremiah it was foretold: “‘There are days coming,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and I will raise up to David a righteous sprout. And a king will certainly reign and act with discretion and execute justice and righteousness in the land.’” (Jer. 23:5) In this prophecy the Creator points out that his Messiah-Son will come through King David, and he will eventually be a ruler, and, as foretold through Daniel, he would be a heavenly king to execute justice and righteousness for his subjects. (Dan. 7:13, 14) So our cone of identification narrows the number of individuals who could fulfill the prophecies concerning the lineage of the Son of God, for he not only must be from the tribe of Judah but must be from the family line of King David.—Ps. 89:34-37.
PLACE AND MANNER OF BIRTH
The cone of identification points to the birth of this future heavenly king in the small village of Bethlehem: “You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, the one too little to get to be among the thousands of Judah, from you there will come out to me the one who is to become ruler in Israel, whose origin is from early times, from the days of time indefinite.”—Mic. 5:2.
The Son of God, however, was not to have an ordinary birth, since the ransoming role he was to fill required that he be a perfect man. (Isa. 53:5; Dan. 9:24, 25) This, in turn, required that he be born of a virgin woman with the seed miraculously provided by Jehovah God, by means of his holy spirit. Such a prophecy of a virgin birth is indeed found in the Hebrew Scriptures. In a modern English translation of Isaiah 7:14, it states: “Look! The maiden herself will actually become pregnant, and she is giving birth to a son, and she will certainly call his name Immanuel.” True, it does not specifically say that she would be a virgin, as some older English translations mistranslate the Hebrew word almah. But this does not prevent the passage from being prophetical of a virgin birth. Certainly a maiden would be a virgin, or else she could hardly be considered a maiden.
Interesting to note is the fact that the Jews more than two hundred years before the beginning of the Common Era actually expected and anticipated a virgin birth. The famous Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures made by Jewish scholars proved this fact in their translation of Isaiah 7:14 into Greek. Instead of translating the Hebrew word almah for “maiden” into the equivalent Greek word for “maiden,” they translated it into the Greek word parthénos, which means simply “virgin”! Thus those Jewish scholars showed their knowledge of this prophecy of the virgin birth of the Son of God.
This cone of identification further narrows the identity of God’s Son.
NATURE OF HIS WORK
The prophet Moses was a prophetic figure of the promised Messiah, as Jehovah himself indicates when he said: “A prophet I shall raise up for them from the midst of their brothers, like you; and I shall indeed put my words in his mouth, and he will certainly speak to them all that I shall command him.” (Deut. 18:18) So God’s Son also had to be a prophet, but a prophet greater than Moses.
Through a commission set forth at Isaiah 61:1, we find that Almighty God foretold that his Son would be a preacher and teacher of men, for it states that “Jehovah has anointed me to tell good news to the meek ones.” In similar vein, through his prophet Ezekiel, Jehovah said: “I will raise up over them one shepherd, and he must feed them, even my servant David. He himself will feed them, and he himself will become their shepherd.” (Ezek. 34:23) Since David had been dead for about 400 years when this prophecy was written, it obviously does not refer to him, but, rather, to God’s Son who would do shepherding work and spiritually feed God’s people.
With all these qualifications, one would expect that the Messiah would be received well in his work among God’s chosen people. But the prophecies reveal otherwise, as can be clearly seen by reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. In this chapter Jehovah shows that God’s own people would reject his Son, as it was written: “He was despised, and we held him as of no account. Truly our sicknesses were what he himself carried; and as for our pains, he bore them. But we ourselves accounted him as plagued, stricken by God and afflicted. But he was being pierced for our transgression.”—Isa. 53:3-5.
The cone of identification is surely approaching its tip, but the all-wise God is exacting and leaves no room for doubt, and so he pinpoints his Son’s identity mathematically through chronology.
Through his prophet Daniel, Jehovah says: “You should know and have the insight that from the going forth of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Leader, there will be seven weeks, also sixty-two weeks.” (Dan. 9:25) Thus in a total of sixty-nine “weeks” from the going forth of the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem “Messiah the Leader” would appear. Now, just how much time does this entail?
The word for “week” in Hebrew means a cycle of seven, usually seven days, but not necessarily. It can be a cycle of seven periods of other lengths. In this case an unusual grammatical structure appears in the Hebrew. The usual word for “weeks” in Hebrew is shavuoth (feminine ending). But in this instance the Hebrew word used is shavuim (masculine ending), which may well indicate to the reader that the week mentioned here is not the normal cycle of seven days, but, rather, seven years. In fact, some translators of this passage into English have rendered it “weeks of years.” This fits in with the Bible principle of “a day for a year.” (Num. 14:34; Ezek. 4:6) Thus the sixty-nine “weeks” would come to 483 years [7 x 69=483].
But when would this 483-year period begin counting? In the year 455 B.C.E. That year Nehemiah received approval to go “to the city of the burial places of my forefathers, that I may rebuild it.” (Neh. 2:5) This occurred “in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king.” (Neh. 2:1) According to information agreed upon by historians Thucydides and Diodorus, this took place in the year 455 B.C.E. The sixty-nine “weeks of years” would begin counting from the time the commandment of Artaxerxes took effect; that is, after the Jews with Nehemiah reached Jerusalem and when he gave the orders to build the city walls. Since it took about four months to make the trip from the king’s winter capital to Jerusalem, it was early in Ab, 455 B.C.E., or about July 26-27 or 27-28, 455 B.C.E., that marks the starting point for the count of time given by Daniel’s prophecy. This is when the commandment to restore and rebuild Jerusalem took effect.
If we count 483 years from that date, we will arrive at the year 29 C.E. [454 years from 455 B.C.E. to 1 B.C.E., 1 year from 1 B.C.E. to 1 C.E. and 28 years from 1 C.E. to 29 C.E.=483 years], the year in which the Son of God would appear as the Messiah or Anointed One.
The prophecy continues: “After the sixty-two weeks [of years] Messiah will be cut off, with nothing for himself.” (Dan. 9:26) Thus after the 62-week period, which came after the 7-week period [a total of 69 weeks], the Messiah was to die. But at what time after 69 weeks of years? Da 9 Verse 27 explains: “At the half of the [seventieth] week [of years] he will cause sacrifice and gift offering to cease.” So, then, half of a week of years being three and a half years, the Messiah would die three and a half years after the year 29 C.E., which began in the fall of the year. This would bring us to the year 33 C.E., in the spring of the year.
How could Jehovah God have been more specific in identifying his Son? The cone of identification has narrowed to its tip and should identify only one man from out of all the humans that ever walked on the face of the earth. He would have to be born in David’s lineage, of a virgin, in the city of Bethlehem; he would have to appear as the Anointed One in 29 C.E. and be a miracle-working prophet, a teacher and shepherd of men; he must be rejected as such by his own people and be put to death, and his death would have to occur in the spring of the year 33 C.E.
IDENTIFICATION FITS ONLY ONE MAN
What does history show? That only one man fits the identification of God’s Son! Jesus Christ alone! Jesus fits the requirement of being born in David’s lineage; and the Christian Greek Scriptures show how his lineage goes all the way back to David and to Abraham. (Matt. 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38) Outside of the Christian Greek Scriptures there is, for example, the testimony of a Rabbi Ulla, who lived in the third century and who stated that “Jesus was treated exceptionally because of royal extraction.”* At the time of Jesus, of course, there were still available temple genealogical records that could be referred to by an interested person.
As to Jesus’ being born of a virgin, in addition to the Bible (Matt. 1:18-25) there are the writings of Celsus, an enemy of Christianity in the second century, whose writings showed that the virgin birth of Jesus was universally believed in by the early Christians.—Origen Against Celsus, Book I, chapters xxxiv, xxxvii.
Moreover, Jesus was born in David’s city, Bethlehem, as foretold. (Luke 2:1-16) Since Jesus came from the family line of David, his family was in Bethlehem at the time of his birth, as required by the Romans for purposes of registration.
As for chronology, Jesus is the only man who could possibly fit into the chronological considerations. History proves that it was in the year 29 C.E. that Jesus appeared to be baptized by John in the Jordan River, and the holy spirit descended from heaven to anoint him, making him the Messiah or Christ. (Luke 3:1, 2, 21-23) Daniel’s prophecy is thus one of the most powerful provisions for identifying the Messiah to the Jewish nation and to us today. As a matter of fact, the Jews of Jesus’ day were looking for the appearance of Messiah the Leader as they considered the prophecies, including Daniel’s time prophecy, and the work of John the Baptist.—Luke 3:15.
Further, Jesus was indeed a miracle-working prophet, as well as a teacher and shepherd of God’s people. His prophecies for our day have come true. (Matt. 24:3-14; Luke 21:7-11) Several sources outside the Christian Greek Scriptures show that Jesus performed great works and that he was a teacher of God’s people, In his Antiquities of the Jews (Book XVIII, chapter 3, paragraph 3) Jewish historian Josephus writes, after narrating some of the troubles that marred the procuratorship of Pilate: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles.”
History testifies that Jesus was rejected by his own people and put to death, as foretold. One secular historian, a man named Tacitus, who was born about 54 C.E., while some of the apostles of Jesus Christ were still alive, states: “Christ . . . suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.”—Annals xv. 44.
Finally, as Daniel’s prophecy indicated, Jesus Christ was put to death in the spring of the year 33 C.E. In fact, he died on Nisan 14, the middle of the lunar year that began in the fall with the month of Tishri. Three and a half years later the seventieth “week of years” came to an end with the anointing of the Gentile Cornelius. A footnote in the Whiston translation of Antiquities of the Jews gives the date of impalement and death of Jesus as April 3, 33 C.E. (Julian calendar), which is Nisan 14 in the Hebrew calendar for that year. Jewish tradition fixes the date of Jesus’ death, according to the Talmudic Tractate (non-expurgated edition), Sanhedrin vi 2, as the 14th of Nisan, in the spring of the year, which is the time Daniel foretold.
So the cone of identification, by means of lineage, place and manner of birth, manner of work and pinpoint chronology all agree to Jesus Christ’s being the Son of God. With what great precision God identified his Son, the Messiah! Those who desire life will give the strongest consideration to the identity of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, for the Messiah is the Seed of Abraham through whom all the families of the earth will bless themselves if they exercise faith in and follow the commands of this prophet Greater than Moses, the Son of God Almighty.
Talmudic Tractate Sanhedrin 43 a, non-expurgated edition.