In Matthew 5, a familiar passage beginning the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes an interesting statement in verse 17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” This is one of many statements by Jesus we could classify as a purpose statement like those we see in Luke 19:10, Mark 2:10, John 6:38, and John 12:27 where Jesus gives reason for His coming to our world.
The fulfillment of scripture is a theme with which Jesus bookends His public ministry. He makes this claim both in Matthew 5:17, at His first public lesson, and in Luke 24:44, just before He ascends to Heaven. He claims to be everything the Old Testament is pointing to, and the entirety of the gospel of Matthew is structured around this theme. Numerous times in his gospel, Matthew coincides events in Jesus’ life with passages from the law and prophets, often writing, “that it may be fulfilled.” Paul’s sermon in Antioch of Pisidia, recorded in Acts 13:16-41, centers on Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy.
The Prophetic Measure
Why is there such an emphasis on prophecy throughout the New Testament? Why does Jesus and His apostles take so much time to point out the ways Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection fulfill the shadows of the Old Testament? Luke 4:16-21 records Jesus teaching in His hometown, and He makes a bold claim that He is the one Isaiah writes about. This is a serious claim. It is a potentially blasphemous claim. If it is to be true, there must be evidence (Romans 4:17). This is one reason the fulfillment of prophecy is so important.
Jesus fulfills about 332 prophecies in His life. The probability of one doing this is roughly 1 in 84×1099. These prophecies include minute details surrounding His birth, His teachings, His miracles, His betrayal, His death, burial, and His resurrection. Jesus makes extraordinary claims about His identity and deity, but He has extraordinary prophetic evidence to support His claims.
The Weight of Prophecy
Genesis 3:15, Genesis 12, Genesis 49:10, and Deuteronomy 18:18 include some prophecies in the Pentateuch. In the books of history, we see prophecies in I Samuel 2:10, I Samuel 2:35, and II Samuel 7. In the Psalms, chapters 2, 16, 22, 69, and 110 point to the Messiah among others. Isaiah prophecies of Jesus in chapter 7:14, 9:6, 11:1, 28:16, and in the servant songs: chapters 42, 49, 50, and 53. In Jeremiah, chapters 23:5, 30:9, 30:21, 30:15, 33:21-22 point to the heir of David. In Ezekiel, prophecies can be found in chapters 34:23-25 and 37:22-26. Zechariah, in chapters 3:8-10, 6:12, 9:9, 11:12-30, 12:10, and 13.
Era after era, book after book, whether a tome of law, a collection of psalms, or a record of prophecy, the Old Testament points to a Messiah. This is why Jesus and His disciples make such a point to emphasize these passages. He is more than a good philosopher or a famous Rabbi. He is Emmanuel, God with Us. He is the fulfillment of the shadows of the Old Testament, deity in the flesh who loves us and gave Himself for us.
lesson by Tim Smelser