There are a number of verses in the New Testament where we find language such as, "And this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken to the prophet...," and it is clear that the New Testament writers are referring to Old Testament prophecies that were "fulfilled" with the coming of Jesus.  As we carefully study these Old Testament passages, we are impressed that these passages frequently had some direct meaning to the Old Testament context in which they are found.  Therefore, we may ask how these passages relate to Christ.  Yet they do clearly relate to fulfillment in Christ in the view of the New Testament writers, and to Christ Himself (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47).

Willis (in 1980) suggested that there are several ways in which this fulfillment could have been inferred by the New Testament writers.  These are as follows:
  1. Allegorically, such as Paul's explicit use in Gal 4:24 when referring to Gen 21, and implied in Gal 4:27 when referring to Isa 54:1.
  2. Typologically or typically, as Paul uses the word typos to describe how Christians should view OT events (1 Cor 10:6, 11), or when Peter referred to baptism as salvation of Noah and family in the ark (1 Pet 3:21).
  3. Parallel or analogy between OT and NT, explaining how Isa 6:9-10 was applied to more than one NT situation.
  4. Accommodation to reasoning of Jewish leaders in 1st Century AD.
  5. If OT prophecy was fulfilled in the OT, then additional fulfillment in the NT as "primary and secondary meaning, secondary interpretation, or double fulfillment."  This would account for Isa 7:14 being used in Matt 1:23.
  6. Literal sense and a more-than-literal (fuller sense).
  7. Principle fulfillment.
  8. One literal fulfillment, like Isa 11 and 52:13-53:12, apparently having one literal fulfillment in Christ.1

It is clear that in 1980 Willis was trying to reconcile his views of OT prophecies and NT fulfillment.  His statement discussing these terms of fulfillment shows this mutual respect for both at that time:

The terms used to describe these phenomena are not as important as the principle involved, which is the necessity of dealing with the biblical text (OT or NT) honestly in its own context and of determining what the biblical writer or speaker really meant in that context.  One who holds the biblical writers in high regard will approach the text with the assumption that the writer can express himself clearly, that the message of the OT writer was relevant to the people of his day, and that the NT writer did not misunderstand or misrepresent the meaning of the OT text he was quoting.2

However, we must realize that the OT prophets themselves did not fully understand the prophecies that God gave them to proclaim.  They were God's mouthpiece, and were faithful in proclaiming what God had commanded them, but did not understand everything.  Consider Daniel's visions, and how he repeatedly asked the angels to explain the prophecies to him (Daniel 7:16, 19; 8:15-16, 27; 9:22; 12:8).  Even after the explanations, Daniel did not always understand.  Consider Peter's insight into the minds of the ancient prophets of God:

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12  It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:10-12 (ESV)

Peter clearly says the OT prophets KNEW at some level of understanding that they were indeed "predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories" (see also Acts 3:24), but their distant vision into the future was compromised to some degree.

Therefore, it is important for the Christian to realize that some of these prophecies may not have been fully understood either by the OT prophet or by the context into which he prophesied.  Therefore, we need to lean more heavily on the understanding of Christ and His apostles in the New Testament.  Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide these apostles into all truth (John 16:13).  In addition, Jesus evidently fully explained how the "Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms" all spoke of him (Luke 24:25, 26, 44).

Now regarding the somewhat complicated categories Willis delineated above, others have chosen a simpler version of this, and call the fulfillment either "figurative" or "literal."3  Although I appreciate Willis' insights regarding the diversity of what is "figurative," I too prefer the simpler system.

With this in mind, I will present those clear-cut references to prophecies regarding Christ as found in the Gospels and Acts, and what type of fulfillment they appear to represent.  I label these as clear-cut because Christ and the Gospel writers clearly invoked OT prophecy in each of this cases.

Events in the Gospels and Acts OT Reference NT Reference Fulfillment Type
Virgin birth, name Immanuel Isa 7:14 Matt 1:18-23 Figurative
Called out of Egypt Hosea 11:1 Matt 2:14-15 Literal
Born in Bethlehem Micah 5:2 Matt 2:3-6 Literal
Slaughter of the infants Jer 31:15 Matt 2:17-18 Figurative
Called a Nazarene Isa 11:1 (Heb); Jesus of Nazareth; see John 1:45-46 & Isa 53:3; Ps 22:6 Matt 2:23 Literal
John the Baptist would prepare the way for him Isa 40:3-5 Matt 3:3 Literal
Would fulfill all righteousness Isa 9:7; 11:4-5; 16:5; 32:1; 32:16-17 Matt 3:15 Literal
Would live in Capernaum Isa 9:1-2 Matt 4:14-16 Fuller-Sense fulfillment
Would cast out demons and heal Isa 53:4 Matt 8:16-17 Literal fulfillment
His gentle and quiet nature Isa 42:1-3 Matt 12:15-17 Fuller-Sense fulfillment
People would not understand or believe him Isa 6:9-10 Matt 13:10-15; John 12:37-40 Parallel fulfillment
He would preach using parables Ps 78:3 Matt 13:34-35 Fuller-Sense fulfillment
His vicarious death must be fulfilled Isa 53:5-10 Matt 26:54, 56 Literal fulfillment
His betrayal price; the potter's field Jer 18:1-6; 19:1-14; Zechariah 11:13 Matt 27:3-7 Conceptual/figurative fulfillment
His message & healings predicted Isa 61:1-2 Luke 4:16-21 Fuller-Sense fulfillment
Destruction of Jerusalem predicted Dan 9:26-27 Luke 21:20-24 Literal fulfillment
He would be considered a transgressor Isa 53:12 Luke 22:36-38 Literal fulfillment
He would be exalted in glory to the right hand of God Ps 110:1 Luke 20:41-44 Literal fulfillment
Isaiah saw him and prophesied his glory Isa 6:1-10; 53:1 John 12:38-41 Literal fulfillment
A close disciple would betray him Ps 41:9 John 13:18; 17:12 Fuller sense fulfillment
They would hate and reject Christ despite evidence Ps 35:19; 69:4 John 15:23-25 Fuller sense fulfillment
They would divide and cast lots for his clothing Ps 22:18 John 19:23-24 Literal fulfillment
He would thirst on the cross and be given sour wine to drink Ps 69:21 John 19:28-29 Fuller sense fulfillment
They would not break his legs as he hung on the cross, but would pierce him Exo 12:46; Num 9:12; Ps 34:20; Zech 12:10 John 19:31-37 Fuller sense fulfillment
He would be called the Son of God Ps 2:7 Acts 13:33 Fuller sense fulfillment
He would be raised from the dead never to die again Isa 55:3; Ps 16:10 Acts 13:34-35 Fuller sense fulfillment
Jesus is the Prophet whom Moses prophesied would come: we must obey him Deut 18:15, 18, 19 Acts 3:22 Literal fulfillment

Now I am sure that many will not agree with me that I have identified these types as they would see them.  However, my bias is in favor of the apostles, who preached the Gospel by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven (1 Pet 1:12).  They were not professors in theology.  All the rules scholars go by regarding "context" apparently were unknown to them.  They wrote in a most sincere manner, and directed us back to the Old Testament to see that this Christ event had roots in OT prophecy.

Now I have purposefully only cited these 27 examples because they contain explicit references to OT prophecies by Christ or his apostles.  There can be no doubt about what they are claiming in these instances.  However, there are others, such as Josh McDowell in his book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, who lists 332 OT predictions about Christ.  Richard Rogers, in his online study entitled the Life of Christ, states that there are more than 1500 predictions about Christ in the OT, and that you can learn everything about Christ by just reading the OT.4  Ted Stewart lists 95 OT prophecies that fulfill 80 different aspects of Christ's life, including the following categories:

  1. Christ's Nature
  2. Christ's Birth
  3. Christ's Youth
  4. Christ's Forerunner
  5. Christ's Roles
  6. Christ's Life and Ministry
  7. Christ's Rejection
  8. Christ's Death
  9. Christ's Resurrection
  10. Christ's Ascension5

Unfortunately, not all will receive this, and some will mock this kind of evidence and call it no evidence at all.  For there is a veil over their hearts and minds so that they cannot see.  Read Paul's allegorical explanation of this:

12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Cor 3:12-18 (ESV)

My invitation is for you to think like Christ and His apostles did about the OT prophecies concerning Christ.  Realize that it was the Spirit of Christ that was in the OT prophets, and those prophets knew that Christ would suffer and then be glorified (1 Pet 1:10-12).  But the picture was not perfectly clear until Christ came.  Open your mind and your heart and remove the veil.  See the OT explode with testimony about Christ, just as the apostles did.  Learn like the apostles did from Christ, that the Psalms, Prophets, and the Law of Moses all bear witness to Him.  Rejoice as you realize that it is Christ who is the golden thread that joins all of God's revelation in the Bible together.  Put away disbelief.

Believe.

ENDNOTES:

  1. Willis, JT. Isaiah, in The Living Word Commentary.  Sweet Publishing Company, Austin, TX, © 1980, p 48-49.
  2. Willis, ibid., p 49.
  3. Wharton, Ed. Scheme of Redemption, (Study Guide), Sunset International Bible Institute, Lubbock, TX, © 1998, p 61.
  4. http://www.sunsetonline.org/
  5. Stewart, Ted. Apologetics II: New Discoveries That Confirm the Bible (Study Guide).  Sunset International Bible Institute, Lubbock, TX, © 2001, Table 8-A.