The Double Meaning of Messianic Prophecy

There is a lot of biblical prophecy that speaks about Jesus. But I think it's fair to say most people are blind to the double meaning in those passages. Many believers would cite Isaiah 53 as an obvious example of a biblical prophet speaking of the promised Messiah. We could also talk about the numerous other prophecies concerning His birth and early life, matters over which the man Jesus of Nazareth could have no control:

The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)

He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)

He would be from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10)

He could come out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1)

He would be called a Nazarene (Isaiah 11:1)

Then there are all the impossible miracles he would perform during His lifetime: He would heal lepers, open the eyes of the blind, and the lame would leap for joy as foretold in Isaiah 35:5-6. The religious leaders knew this to be true. They were looking for those signs. There are prophecies saying that the Messiah would be the Son of God (Psalm 2:12, Proverbs 30:4) and yet God Himself (Isaiah 9:6-7, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Zechariah 2:10). There is also a lot of prophecy about the way in which the Messiah would die; the timing and His manner of death, long before crucifixion was even invented, again, matters out of His control:

He would be ‘cut off’ before the second temple was destroyed (Daniel 9:26)

His hands and feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:17)

He would be mocked and tortured before his execution (Isaiah 53:4-8)

His friend would betray Him (Psalm 41:9)

He would be offered vinegar on the cross (Psalm 69:21)

None of His bones would be broken (Psalm 34:20)… and many more.

Why can't Jewish people see?

You may be aware of these prophecies and many more like them. There are hundreds. We can look back with the confidence of hindsight and say, as improbable as they might have sounded at the time (a virgin giving birth? Really?), they came to pass exactly as described.

It's easy for Christians to wonder why Jewish people don't get it… why can they not see? Well. It's in large part due to the fact that there is a double whammy going on in most of these prophecies. Christians often only see one side of the prophecy, and Jewish people tend to see the other.

If you look at Micah 5, Christians will see the birthplace of Jesus, miraculously foretold with perfect accuracy. If a Jewish person looks at Micah 5, they see a heroic warrior coming to kick butt at the end of time. Take a look, but try to read it through the eyes of Israel. Go on—really, take a quick look—it's here if you don't have a Bible handy. Try and see what Jewish people see.

But most biblical prophecy works like this. Whether it's Isaiah 61 (Good news to the poor AND the day of the Lord's vengeance) Isaiah 9 (unto us a child is born AND God's kingdom rule from Jerusalem, punishment of the wicked) or just about any prophecy you care to look at.

It's time to start using two lenses. Christians need to start adjusting their vision to see the warrior Messiah in the very passages they know so well. Because it's not like the Jewish Messianic expectation is wrong—it will indeed happen, just as it is written. And Jewish people need to start seeing that the first incarnation was there, in the midst of these passages, all along. And it's not too late for them to receive Him as Messiah today, two thousand years later!

When we don't see the double meaning

John the Baptist got it, but then again, did he? Here's how he introduced his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth:

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 1:11-12)

He knew Jesus had come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He also warned of the unquenchable fire of God that was coming in judgement at the end of time. But perhaps he didn't fully understand what he was seeing.

John saw both the first and second coming simultaneously, so when he was locked up in prison, on death row, the confusion about why the Messiah wasn't busting him out of jail and blasting the evildoers must have been hard to take.

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:2-6)

John the Baptist knew his cousin could rescue him, yet somehow He wouldn't. He saw that this Jesus was truly the Messiah who would winnow, thresh, and burn, but reported the two comings in one breath. As is very common in Biblical prophecy. John didn't seem to understand what he had seen. Why wasn't Jesus executing vengeance as the prophecy said? But John wasn't wrong, was he? It was just an issue of timing. “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me”, says Jesus. John had been so sure at first declaring, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” But now he gets the disciples to go and check—did I get it wrong? The temptation to doubt and become disappointed with God, dismayed and offended must have been strong.

20:20 vision and the problem of unprepared people

It was hard for Jewish people in the time of Jesus to accept that this humble carpenter from Nazareth who died the cruel, humiliating death of a criminal was their Messiah. But equally, many Christians are too settled and fixated on this first coming to see what Jewish people see. They are simply not mentally ready for the warrior from the tribe of Judah who will execute vengeance and punishment, which is exactly what Jewish people have been expecting.

The problem of an unprepared people is that they not only miss it when God acts according to His prophecies, but they may even oppose it.

The religious leaders of the day were not ready for what they saw, they were offended by the humble incarnation, so they rejected Jesus and stood in opposition to God's perfect plans. Lord, let it never be said of us that we opposed Your plans! We want to be with You, ready and waiting, rejoicing and joining in Your activity on earth. Just as so many Jewish people struggle to see Jesus in their Bibles, Christians often fail to see what God has said about the second coming, about God's plans regarding Israel and the Messianic kingdom to come because they're just not used to reading the Bible with Jewish lenses. Just as Jesus is there through the whole Bible, plain as day when you know how to look, so are God's prophetic plans for the end of time. You just have to get your focus right. We need to look with both lenses.

These are the days for seeing both together. More and more Jewish people are tuning in to the truth about Jesus, finally seeing Him in the Hebrew Scriptures, and it's time for Christians to start adjusting their focus to look at the Bible through Jewish lenses: to get to know the warrior Messiah, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who comes with a sword. Look again at passages of prophecy and see what John the Baptist saw ahead of his time. Get ready for the Lord of lords and King of kings, because here He comes. Not lowly on a donkey this time. No. This time He's on a white horse, here to execute judgement and put everything right. And John the Baptist will be thrilled.


Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

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