They Waited for the Messiah
“The people were waiting, and all were reasoning in their hearts concerning John, whether he were not the Messiah.”
1. Certain shepherds heard what angelic announcement?
NIGHT has fallen. Shepherds are out-of-doors, keeping watch over their flocks. How startled they are when Jehovah’s angel stands nearby and God’s glory gleams around them! Listen! The angel makes this dramatic proclamation: “Have no fear, for, look! I am declaring to you good news of a great joy that all the people will have, because there was born to you today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” the one who would prove to be the Messiah. The shepherds can find this infant lying in a manger in a nearby town. Suddenly, “a multitude of the heavenly army” begin praising Jehovah, saying: “Glory in the heights above to God, and upon earth peace among men of goodwill.”
2. What does “Messiah” mean, and how can he be identified?
2 Of course, the Jewish shepherds know that “Messiah,” or “Christ,” refers to God’s “Anointed One.” (Ex. 29:5-7) But how can they learn more and convince others that the baby mentioned by the angel will be Jehovah’s appointed Messiah? By examining prophecies found in the Hebrew Scriptures and comparing these with the activities and life course of this child.
Why Were People in Expectation?
3, 4. How do we understand Daniel 9:24, 25?
3 When John the Baptizer came on the scene years later, his words and deeds led some to wonder if the Messiah had arrived. (Read Luke 3:15.) It is possible that some correctly understood a Messianic prophecy involving “seventy weeks.” If so, they could have determined when the Messiah would appear. In part, the prophecy stated: “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. 9:24, 25) Various scholars agree that these are weeks of years. For instance, the Revised Standard Version says: “Seventy weeks of years are decreed.”
4 Today, Jehovah’s servants are aware that the 69 weeks, or 483 years, of Daniel 9:25 began in 455 B.C.E. when Persian King Artaxerxes authorized Nehemiah to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. (Neh. 2:1-8) Those weeks ended 483 years later, in 29 C.E., when Jesus of Nazareth was baptized and anointed with holy spirit, thus becoming the Messiah.
5. What prophecies will we now consider?
5 Let us now consider a few of many other prophecies regarding the Messiah that found fulfillment in Jesus’ birth, early life, and ministry. This will undoubtedly strengthen our faith in God’s prophetic word. It will also provide clear evidence that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah.
His Early Life Foretold
6. Explain how Genesis 49:10 was fulfilled.
6 The Messiah was to be born of Israel’s tribe of Judah. In his deathbed blessing of his sons, the patriarch Jacob foretold: “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 peoples will belong.” (Gen. 49:10) Many Jewish scholars of the past associated those words with the Messiah. Starting with the rule of Judean King David, the scepter (royal sovereignty) and the commander’s staff (power to command) resided with the tribe of Judah. “Shiloh” signifies “He Whose It Is; He to Whom It Belongs.” The regal line of Judah would end in “Shiloh” as the permanent kingly Heir, for God told Zedekiah, the last Judean king, that rulership would be given to one having the legal right to it. (Ezek. 21:26, 27) After Zedekiah, Jesus was the only descendant of David to whom kingship was promised. Before Jesus’ birth, the angel Gabriel told Mary: “Jehovah God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule as king over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of his kingdom.” (Luke 1:32, 33) Shiloh must be Jesus Christ, who was a descendant of Judah and David.
7. Where was the Messiah born, and why is this significant?
7 The Messiah’s birth would take place in Bethlehem. “You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, the one too little to get to be among the thousands of Judah,” wrote the prophet Micah, “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 Messiah was to be born in the Judean town of Bethlehem, evidently once named Ephrathah. Although Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his adoptive father, Joseph, lived in Nazareth, a Roman registration decree had taken them to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born in 2 B.C.E. (Matt. 2:1, 5, 6) What a remarkable fulfillment of prophecy!
8, 9. What was foretold about the Messiah’s birth and the events that followed it?
8 The Messiah would be born of a virgin. (Read Isaiah 7:14.) The Hebrew word bethu·lahʹ means “virgin,” but another term (ʽal·mahʹ) appears at Isaiah 7:14. There it was prophesied that “the maiden [ha·ʽal·mahʹ]” would give birth to a son. The word ʽal·mahʹ is applied to the maiden Rebekah before her marriage. (Gen. 24:16, 43) Under inspiration, Matthew used the Greek word for “virgin” (par·theʹnos) when showing that Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled in connection with the birth of Jesus. The Gospel writers Matthew and Luke state that Mary was a virgin who became pregnant through the operation of God’s spirit.
9 Young children would be killed after the Messiah’s birth. Something similar happened centuries earlier when Egypt’s Pharaoh decreed that Hebrew male babies be cast into the Nile River. (Ex. 1:22) But especially noteworthy is Jeremiah 31:15, 16, where Rachel is depicted as weeping over her sons who were taken to “the land of the enemy.” Her lamentation was heard in distant Ramah, in the territory of Benjamin, north of Jerusalem. Matthew shows that Jeremiah’s words were fulfilled when King Herod ordered the slaughter of young male children in Bethlehem and its surrounding territory. (Read Matthew 2:16-18.) Imagine the grief in that area!
10. Explain how Hosea 11:1 was fulfilled in Jesus.
10 Like the Israelites, the Messiah would be called out of Egypt. (Hos. 11:1) Before Herod’s death-dealing decree, an angel directed that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus go to Egypt. There they remained “until the decease of Herod, for that to be fulfilled which was spoken by Jehovah through his prophet [Hosea], saying: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matt. 2:13-15) Of course, Jesus himself could not have orchestrated any of the foretold events associated with his birth and early life.
The Messiah Goes Into Action!
11. How was the way prepared before Jehovah’s Anointed One?
11 The way was to be prepared before God’s Anointed One. Malachi foretold that “Elijah the prophet” would do this work, preparing the hearts of the people for the coming of the Messiah. (Read Malachi 4:5, 6.) Jesus himself identified this “Elijah” as John the Baptizer. (Matt. 11:12-14) And Mark pointed out that the ministry of John fulfilled the prophetic words of Isaiah. (Isa. 40:3; Mark 1:1-4) Jesus did not arrange for John to do an Elijahlike work as His forerunner. The activity of this foretold “Elijah” was done in harmony with God’s will as a means of identifying the Messiah.
12. What commission helps to identify the Messiah?
12 A God-given commission helps to identify the Messiah. In the synagogue at Nazareth, the town where he had been reared, Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah and applied to himself the words: “Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news to the poor, he sent me forth to preach a release to the captives and a recovery of sight to the blind, to send the crushed ones away with a release, to preach Jehovah’s acceptable year.” Because he truly was the Messiah, Jesus could rightly say: “Today this scripture that you just heard is fulfilled.”
13. How was Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee foretold?
13 The Messiah’s public ministry in Galilee was foretold. Concerning “the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali . . . Galilee of the nations,” Isaiah wrote: “The people that were walking in the darkness have seen a great light. As for those dwelling in the land of deep shadow, light itself has shone upon them.” (Isa. 9:1, 2) Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee, residing at Capernaum, where many residents of Zebulun and Naphtali enjoyed the benefits of the spiritual light he brought them. (Matt. 4:12-16) In Galilee, Jesus gave his thought-provoking Sermon on the Mount, chose his apostles, performed his first miracle, and likely appeared to some 500 disciples after his resurrection. (Matt. 5:1–7:27; 28:16-20; Mark 3:13, 14; John 2:8-11; 1 Cor. 15:6) He thus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by preaching in “the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali.” Of course, Jesus went on to preach the Kingdom message elsewhere in Israel.
The Messiah’s Other Activities Foretold
14. In what way was Psalm 78:2 fulfilled by Jesus?
14 The Messiah would speak in parables, or illustrations. The psalmist Asaph sang: “In a proverbial saying I will open my mouth.” (Ps. 78:2) How do we know that this prophetically applied to Jesus? Matthew tells us so. After relating illustrations in which Jesus likened the Kingdom to a developing mustard grain and to leaven, Matthew states: “Without an illustration [Jesus] would not speak to them; that there might be fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet who said: ‘I will open my mouth with illustrations, I will publish things hidden since the founding.’” (Matt. 13:31-35) Proverbial sayings, or parables, were among Jesus’ effective means of teaching.
15. Point out how Isaiah 53:4 found fulfillment.
15 Our infirmities were to be borne by the Messiah. Isaiah foretold: “Truly our sicknesses were what he himself carried; and as for our pains, he bore them.” (Isa. 53:4) Matthew pointed out that after curing Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus healed others so that “there might be fulfilled what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘He himself took our sicknesses and carried our diseases.’” (Matt. 8:14-17) And this is but one of many recorded instances when Jesus cured the ailing.
16. How did the apostle John show that Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 53:1?
16 Despite all the good done by the Messiah, many people would not believe in him. (Read Isaiah 53:1.) Showing that this prophecy was fulfilled, the apostle John wrote: “Although [Jesus] had performed so many signs before them, they were not putting faith in him, so that the word of Isaiah the prophet was fulfilled which he said: ‘Jehovah, who has put faith in the thing heard by us? And as for the arm of Jehovah, to whom has it been revealed?’” (John 12:37, 38) Also, few put faith in the good news about Jesus, the Messiah, during the ministry of the apostle Paul.
17. John made what application of Psalm 69:4?
17 The Messiah would be hated without cause. (Ps. 69:4) The apostle John quotes Jesus as saying: “If I had not done among [the people] the works that no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have both seen and hated me as well as my Father. But it is that the word written in their Law may be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’” (John 15:24, 25) Often the “Law” means the whole body of Scripture. (John 10:34; 12:34) The Gospel accounts prove that Jesus was hated, especially by the Jewish religious leaders. Moreover, Christ said: “The world has no reason to hate you, but it hates me, because I bear witness concerning it that its works are wicked.”
18. What further examination should strengthen our conviction that Jesus is the Messiah?
18 Jesus’ first-century followers were certain that Jesus was the Messiah, for he did indeed fulfill the Messianic prophecies found in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Matt. 16:16) As we have seen, some of these underwent fulfillment during the early life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Additional Messianic prophecies will be examined in the next article. Our prayerful reflection on them will surely strengthen our conviction that Jesus Christ truly is the Messiah who was appointed by our heavenly Father, Jehovah.
For a detailed discussion of the “seventy weeks,” see chapter 11 of the book Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy!
How Would You Answer?
• What prophecies were fulfilled in connection with Jesus’ birth?
• How was the way prepared before the Messiah?
• What prophetic words of Isaiah chapter 53 found fulfillment in Jesus?