by Clay Watts

"A Prophetic View of Christ's First Coming"


In other studies we have seen the general principles of prophecy, some of the key issues, and the pitfalls in presuming too much about how fulfillment will occur. We've also looked at the major Old Testament end times passages for additional insight into not only the events, but also the prophetic principles that we need to apply in interpreting the events. Let's now look at a variety of scriptures concerning Christ's first coming. Since we know how they were fulfilled, we can look for examples of these principles and pitfalls and see some additional patterns that will help us interpret end times scripture. Here are the topics in this study:


Scriptures Relating to Jesus' Birth

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14

This controversial verse reveals an important principle of Biblical prophecy and interpretation. Based on the reference to this verse in Matthew 1:23, there is no question that the birth of Christ by the virgin Mary is in view. The more interesting issue is the historical context in which Isaiah gave the prophecy. He had given a word to Ahaz, king of Judah, that the king's immediate enemies, Israel (Ephraim) and Syria (Aram), would not defeat him. The hypocritical Ahaz, undoubtedly scoffing at Isaiah's prophecy, piously refused to ask for a sign. Because of the underlying disbelief, the Holy Spirit through Isaiah provided a sign for the house of David (not just Ahaz) that would represent its ultimate deliverance, in spite of corrupt kings such as Ahaz. However, in response to Judah's wickedness, Isaiah continued the prophecy with the eventual devastation of Judah at the hands of Assyria. (Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets.)

This prophecy illustrates the principle that the Holy Spirit is not as interested in the immediate circumstances as in the long-term fulfillment of prophetic utterances. Many prophecies, such as this one, seem inappropriate in the immediate context, and only become clear in relation to other such scriptures and, finally, as the event comes to pass.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given... Isaiah 9:6-7

This scripture, in concert with Isaiah 7:14 and 11:1-5, extends the theme of the virgin-born child, Immanuel. These scattered references, difficult to apply in the immediate historical context, nevertheless provide a clear picture of a future deliverer, who can only be the Messiah. The principle, once again, is that God, to comfort his people, will look far down the road and bring them glimpses of their final destination. But the fulfillment may belong to a distant generation and may occur in a way difficult for them to understand.

"Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing... Daniel 9:25,26

This remarkable prophecy gives the exact timing for Christ's first appearance. The difficulty in its historical context is that there were several possible interpretations of the beginning point, "the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem," as well as the ending point, "until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes," and even the intervening time period, which was broken into two pieces, "seven sevens," and "sixty-two sevens." By choosing the right combination of these items, one can show the exact fulfillment. However, this can only be done after the fact, and by making several assumptions. The validity of those assumptions can only be shown by the results. This may seem to be forcing events to fit prophecy, but even if there were several possible combinations, the probability is infinitesimal that even one of them, without divine inspiration, could predict the Messiah's arrival over 400 years in the future.

The point in this scripture is that even in those days the general time frame must have been known. This was undoubtedly why pious ones such as Anna and Simeon were so ready for Jesus' appearance and had no trouble accepting the unusual circumstances of his birth. The lesson for us today is to be aware of the general timing contained in scripture, but not to tie it down to specifics.

Another example is the clear end times milestone of Israel becoming a nation. Was the 1948 declaration of Israel as an independent nation the beginning of the prophetic countdown for end times? Or could it have been the League of Nations mandate in 1922, which recognized a Jewish homeland in Palestine and encouraged Jewish immigration? Or could it have been 1967, when the Israeli army recovered control of the Old City in Jerusalem, containing the original temple site? Or could it be an event still in the future? We will probably only know as other events confirm the timing.

...Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple...Malachi 3:1

This passage is sometimes quoted to show that Christ's first coming had to occur while the temple was still standing. Since the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, he had to have appeared before then. However, the context of the verse is more closely associated with the final coming of Christ in judgment. In this case, we could also say that the temple would have to be standing at that time. If a temple is built in Jerusalem, it will certainly be a significant event in end times chronology.

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 Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan--The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:1,2

In the middle of grave affliction and judgment, Israel is promised a ray of light. The light can often only be appreciated as it contrasts with the surrounding darkness. Although the darkness is associated with the region around Galilee, the light is also to come from this most unlikely area. This shows another prophetic principle, that of contrast. Often, light and deliverance only come from darkness and death, and these two are mingled in the same passage. God chooses to use contrasts to allow us to see evil and good for what they really are. We are better able to recognize the difference when there are such extremes.

The verses following imply that Messiah is a conquering king who delivers Israel from her enemies. This identification of Messiah with deliverance was a primary source of confusion to the Jews who kept expecting Jesus to announce himself as king. This illustrates perhaps the most difficult prophetic principle of all to apply--that of uniqueness and separation. Each verse may stand alone and be separate and distinct even from the ones next to it. It must not be assumed that juxtaposed verses are directly related in time.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. Isaiah 11:1

This is a clear indication that the Messiah would come from the Davidic line. The juxtaposition of these verses with the Assyrian (10:24) is not coincidental. These same verses are often connected with the Antichrist of end times, so the appearance of the Messiah and the ushering in of the Millennium are well placed.

...out of Egypt I called my son. Hosea 11:1

This verse, in context, primarily refers to the nation Israel being called out of Egyptian slavery. However, the term "son" is not often used to refer to Israel, and in this case has double meaning. It would have been extremely difficult to apply this to Jesus until after his ministry.

"But you, Bethlehem...out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel..." Micah 5:2

This passage was well known to the leaders of Christ's time. They used this verse to advise Herod that the wise men should look for the Christ child in Bethlehem. However, this did not prevent many from later missing this in Christ's life. They thought he was from Galilee. They either did not bother to find out what part Bethlehem had played in his life, or they ignored it.

The end times Christian has a responsibility to search out matters fully before making judgments about how a scripture may relate to events. The surface relationship may be inadequate to make the connection. There can always be more than one interpretation and set of facts about a person or event. We must be diligent to ask probing questions and not be satisfied with the obvious answer.

An example of this principle is the nationality of Antichrist or the identity of the ten nation confederation. There are so many references in scriptures which can be interpreted so many ways that it would be extremely prejudicial to assume a particular interpretation is any more than just a possible scenario.

This is what the LORD says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more." This is what the LORD says: "Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded," declares the LORD. "They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future," declares the LORD. "Your children will return to their own land. Jeremiah 31:15-17

This was not the first or last time Jews mourned for lost children. However, it epitomizes God's ultimate promise of restoration, which can only happen through Christ. The prophetic principle is that there may be many fulfillments, but there is one ultimate fulfillment.


Scriptures Relating to Jesus' Ministry

"'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' Malachi 3:1, quoted in Matthew 11:10
"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. Malachi 4:5

The context appears to be the second coming and final judgment, but was also applied to the first coming. John the Baptist was the fulfillment. This is another case where the fulfillment was not quite as literal as some might have expected. John embodied the spirit of Elijah, and was not Elijah literally resurrected. Some even thought Jesus was Elijah (Matthew 16:14). This verse is almost never mentioned in end times scenarios, but the context indicates that it could have another fulfillment just prior to Christ's second coming. As with the first coming, however, the fulfillment may not be something we would easily imagine today.

Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Matthew 4:7

In this reply to Satanís second temptation, Jesus warns against improper interpretation of God's word to meet selfish motives. Jesus also demonstrates here that one must know the complete Word of God to guard against being deceived. Even Satan can use isolated scripture to support a point. The key is to have the sense of the whole Word of God on a particular point and be able to bring the appropriate scriptures to bear. This can only be done through the Holy Spirit.

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Isaiah 61:1,2 quoted in Luke 4:18-19.

Jesus used this famous verse to confirm his ministry. The Old Testament context is clearly a promise to the house of Israel and undoubtedly was interpreted even then as Messianic. However, it spans the first and second coming, since the day of vengeance (not included in Jesus' quote) occurs as part of the second coming. This partial fulfillment was probably a source of confusion to the Jews of Jesus' time. They were expecting a Messiah who would fulfill these verses completely in one period of time.

Here is my servant whom I have chosen...In his name the nations will put their hope Isaiah 42:1-4 quoted in Matthew 12:17-21

The Jews would have expected a political leader to fulfill parts of this passage, but its fulfillment was only in a spiritual sense at Christís first coming. It will be fulfilled in a physical sense only at his second coming.

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers ... I will put my words in his mouth...Deuteronomy 18:15,18

Peter applies this to Christ in Acts 3:22 to indicate that he is a prophet of the highest order. However, the context of the verse in Deuteronomy pointed to the prophetic ministry throughout the Old Testament, and it was not obvious that it applied specially to one prophet thousands of years later.

I will open my mouth in parables... Psalm 78:2

Matthew 13:35 quotes this verse to demonstrate Jesus' fulfillment as he taught with parables things that had hidden meanings to those who could receive the truth. This verse is unremarkable except that it emphasized the role the parable has in Jesus' teaching. Similar allegorical and figurative language is used extensively throughout end times scriptures. The purpose is the same as in Jesus' teaching, i.e., to reveal hidden truths to those who are willing and able to receive it.

Then will the eyes of the blind shall be opened. Isaiah 35:5; 42:7

The context of this passage appears to the Old Testament reader to refer to Christ's final coming. However, again, it was partly fulfilled in his first coming.

... a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering... Isaiah 53:3,4

The 52nd and 53rd chapters of Isaiah are the most remarkable prophecies of Christ's first coming. Almost every aspect of his redemptive mission is described in poignant detail. How could the Jews, so familiar with these scriptures, miss the very one they described? What blinded them and made them lame in their spirits? Was it not that Jesus did some things they interpreted as wrong? They were so caught up in enforcing the letter of the law, that when Jesus instead emphasized the spirit of the law, they could not see past their traditions and man-made interpretations. Could we be similarly blinded by our traditional interpretations and miss some of our responsibilities in helping to usher in end times?

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn "'a man against his father...a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' Matthew 10:34-36, quoting Micah 7:6

The difficult mission of Jesus was foretold in this enigmatic passage. The Old Testament context appears to refer to the degeneration of Jewish society prior to the Lord's return, when the godly have been swept from the land. This makes it very difficult to turn to God. It accurately portrays the degree to which people would be torn by Jesus' forceful presentation of the gospel. Again, while this was fulfilled in Christ's first coming, it will undoubtedly be a characteristic of his second coming as well.

The blind receive sight, the lame walk... and the good news is preached to the poor. Matthew 11:5, quoting Isaiah 35:4-6

The Old Testament context was restoration of the earth after God's vengeance on Israel's enemies. Thus, when Jesus did not take care of the Romans, the Jews would not have expected this passage to apply. This again shows the danger of chronologically linking prophetic scriptures.

"Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'" Zechariah 9:9 quoted in Matthew 21:5

This Old Testament passage clearly refers to a conquering king. No wonder the Jews were disappointed when he didn't immediately fulfill the rest of the prophecy.

...From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise. Psalm 8:2 quoted in Matthew 21:16

This passage was immediately followed by a reference to victory over enemies, again raising expectations as to what should follow in Jesus' ministry.


Scriptures Relating to Jesus' Death and Resurrection

...'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.' Psalm 41:9 quoted in John 13:18.

The context of this scripture is David's persecution by his enemies and ultimately one close to him, probably his son Absolom. While this seems to apply to a man of violence and sin, who deserved what he got, yet because of the integrity of his heart before God, he also says "I know that you are pleased with me..." Jesus, who took man's humanity and sinfulness to the cross, also pleased God because of the integrity of his heart. Thus, although this passage appears to imply the natural consequence of sin, it also points to the supernatural consequence of sinlessness. Jesus did not deserve this traitorous act. Nevertheless, the scripture applies to his situation since he was the antitype of David. The principle here is that a scripture can appear to refer to a specific situation in a man's life and yet have direct application to Jesus. The constraint is that man must have the spirit of God in him--this is what makes the two situations parallel.

..."They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me." Zechariah 11:12,13 quoted in Matthew 27:9.

The context of these verses is for a distant future when the good shepherd is detested by his rebellious flock marked for slaughter. The specific amount of silver is a clue that this is to be literally fulfilled. However, this scripture would not have easily been applied to Christ's situation since the money was not paid directly to him, but rather to his betrayer. The sense is the same, that is, the thirty pieces of silver are Christ's price--the value put on him by his enemies. But the fulfillment was different than one might have expected from a surface reading of the text.

..."'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' Zechariah 13:7 quoted in Matthew 26:31 and Mark 14:27.

The context of this verse would have been extremely difficult to understand prior to Christ. It seems to refer to a leader whose followers scatter when he is stricken. However, it is difficult to see why, if this referred to the Lord, he would then be against the little ones and would strike down two-thirds of them and then refine the remainder. It is clear today that Jesus' followers deserted him when he was unexpectedly crucified and that God punished those who would not receive him and put those who did receive him through great testing. But it would have been very hard to apply these scriptures correctly in advance, because who would have thought that the Messiah would be stricken, much less that his followers would ever desert him?

for wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues. Psalm 109:2
I am like a deaf man, who cannot hear, like a mute, who cannot open his mouth; Psalm 38:13, 39:2 he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53:7 quoted in Acts 8:32.

These verses refer historically to David being afflicted by his enemies and his response. These would have been difficult to apply to the promised Messiah unless the reader sees through the fallible man, David, to the Godly spirit of David that enables him to rely on God to deal with his enemies. As with so many of the Psalms and prophetic scriptures, the interpreter must see beyond the immediate people and circumstances to the essence of Godliness represented by the response to adverse pressures.

...They will strike Israel's ruler on the cheek with a rod. Micah 5:1

The context of this verse appears to refer to the many leaders of Israel who were to be humiliated by the Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans. Then, in verse 2, the deliverer appears from Bethlehem, and would seem to be different from the ruler(s) of verse 1. How could one who has been humiliated by Israel's enemies also be the deliverer? The juxtaposition of these verses is one more example of the great difficulty in presupposing how prophetic passages should be sequenced and interpreted. The fulfillment is often much different than could have been imagined.

I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Isaiah 50:6

Again, this would have appeared to be the description of a man given to normal passions and feelings, who could have chosen to do the opposite. While the passage refers to a very special servant of the Lord, there is nothing remarkable to indicate that this is the Messiah. It is more likely that it was taken to be the prophet Isaiah referring to himself.

...they have pierced my hands and my feet. Psalm 22:16
..."They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing."... Psalm 22:18 quoted in Matthew 27:35 and John 19:24.
...My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Psalm 22:1 quoted in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34.
...My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth... Psalm 22:15
They... gave me vinegar for my thirst. Psalm 69:21

These verses, taken with the rest of the 22nd Psalm, give a strikingly clear picture of Christ's crucifixion. Although it would have been difficult to see more than some of David's sufferings in the passage, once Christ was on the cross, it would seem that many would have recognized the stark application. That no one apparently did is an amazing testimony to man's hardness of heart and blindness to the truth. Without the Holy Spirit controlling our every thought and perception, we could easily fall into the same error. The more we condemn the people of that time for their blindness, the more we must ask ourselves, who have so much light, whether we really listen to the Holy Spirit and desire him to reveal truths that might be too painful to hear.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death...and was numbered with the transgressors...Isaiah 53:9,12

The entire 53rd chapter of Isaiah describes the suffering servant who the Lord "makes his life a guilt offering" (vs. 10). The Jews had so much trouble with passages like this one that they saw two different personages, the suffering servant and the conquering savior. They could not reconcile the two into one person. We have the same dilemma today in our Christian walk. We must at the same time be the servant who "after the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied" (vs. 11) and have faith that ultimately "he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death" (vs. 12). The idea of good coming from suffering is borne out by the millennia of human experience, but still is difficult to accept, especially in today's prosperous, pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding age. This may be why the less prosperous Christians are so much more in tune with the Word and so much more fervent in their worship and obedience. They know the truth of this paradox.

...Do not break any of the bones. Exodus 12:46
They must not...break any of its bones...Numbers 9:12
...Not one of his bones will be broken. Psalm 34:20 quoted in John 19:36.

These scriptures give an overall image of wholeness and purity. The sacrifices are to be without blemish or break. The righteous man may have troubles, but he will ultimately be whole, not broken. These word pictures were clear. However, it is doubtful that the small detail of the Roman soldiers not breaking Jesus' legs was noticed in this context. To those who did not believe in him it would have made no difference. To those who did, they were already so grief stricken that they would not have seen the parallel. This is an example of the detail fulfillment but not necessarily being able to confirm it until after the fact has taken place.

"In that day," declares the Sovereign LORD, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. Amos 8:9

In context, this appears to refer to God's punishment in the last days. However, it also refers to the day Christ died and the sun was darkened for three hours, beginning at noon. This double reference indicates that the event further signified God's mourning over man's sin.

After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Hosea 6:2

The context refers to Israel being revived after a period of judgment. This could apply to Christ even more literally, and perhaps to Israel's restoration after 2,000 years (two days) of dispersion.

When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious-- that you, O LORD God, might dwell there. Psalm 68:18

This was probably interpreted as the conquering leaders of Israel ascending a mountain to present booty taken in conquest as an offering to the Lord. It has a much different interpretation in Ephesians 4:8-9, where it refers to Christ's descending after his death and then ascending to heaven with hell's liberated captives.

The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." Psalm 110:1

This was considered a Messianic passage, but the implications were not fully comprehended, as Jesus demonstrated in Mark 12:36, that the Messiah was not only God's son, but God himself in the flesh. This concept was one of the major stumbling blocks for the Jews, even though it is foreseen throughout the Old Testament.


Patterns in the Use of Prophecy About Jesus' First Coming

These Old Testament prophecies display several general patterns that may be useful in interpreting any prophecy.

One pattern has to do with timing. This causes much confusion in interpreting prophecy. The time frame of Messianic prophecy is very general and not at all specific, as were many other prophecies. Furthermore, the timeframe was often very long term. This was to point God's people to hope and ultimate deliverance in the midst of trials. However, it also made interpretation very difficult.

Another difficulty was that often a prophecy would be fulfilled partially in the short run but only completely and ultimately in the distant future. There might even be several partial fulfillments before the final one. These timing issues caused God's people to think that a prophecy no longer applied because it apparently had been fulfilled in the past.

Another pattern has to do with the person in view. A prophecy might apply to a specific person and event in the near term, but ultimately to Jesus, or to a Godly characteristic that prefigures Christ, in the far term. At almost the other extreme, the person apparently performing the action in a prophecy occasionally may, in the actual fulfillment, be replaced by someone of a totally different nature. The action transfers, but not the nature of the person. This can also cause confusion when a prophetic action by an apparently ungodly person actually applies to Jesus.

Another pattern has to do with the disguised content of the prophecy. This takes various forms, such as the use of double meanings, obscure attributes, spiritual vs. literal meaning, symbols, allegory, and non-traditional spirit-oriented fulfillment. These techniques are used to hide the true meaning of a prophecy so that it may only be revealed to those willing and able to receive it at the appropriate time. This is the same reason Jesus gave for his extensive use of parables.

One of the reasons for hiding the true nature of a prophetic fulfillment is that, although many of the details could not be appreciated beforehand, they could be very useful afterwards in convincing the Jews who would hear that this was indeed the Messiah who was to come. If they were open to the scriptures, they could easily be persuaded. This is undoubtedly the approach Paul used when he argued in the synagogues on the Sabbaths that Jesus was the Christ.

Another pattern involves the context of a particular prophetic verse. A verse may properly be taken out of context and be fulfilled in a standalone fashion. This type of fulfillment is almost impossible to foresee. The only way to accept such a fulfillment is in the context of other scripture and through specific revelation by the Holy Spirit. This requires considerable knowledge of the scriptures and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

A final pattern, and perhaps the most difficult of all to recognize, is the prophecy whose proper interpretation requires the hearer to be willing to receive something painful or that goes against his own beliefs. This can only happen if we are completely open to the Holy Spirit and have truly died to self-interest and ambition. What a glorious state to be in--not really self-denial, but rather self-fulfillment in the highest degree. What higher delight than to receive revelation of a completely unexpected truth that can set us free and minister to many others.

This is the role of the end-time warrior--to hear the battlefield instructions in spite of the roar of conflict and to be willing to obey instantly even the most unlikely command. This can only happen through a lifetime of conditioning and preparation. We must know the scriptures, just as a soldier must know his weapon inside and out, and then be ready to point it in whatever direction we are commanded, moment-by-moment. Then the enemy is routed and we are victorious.


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Copyright 2005 by Clay Watts, Dallas, Texas. All rights reserved.