In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, the apostle Paul claims, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
Paul proclaims to the Corinthian believers not only that Christ’s death and resurrection are of first importance with regard to salvation, but also that they happened in “accordance with the Scriptures.” Paul’s claim is that the Old Testament anticipated the suffering and resurrection of the Messiah. If his claim is true, we should expect to find compelling prophetic evidence for these things in the Scriptures.
In fact, the evidence of the Old Testament is beyond compelling. It is convincing beyond any doubt.
The following is a brief explanation of ten Old Testament stories, themes, and motifs that point to the death and resurrection of the Messiah. This is not just a list of individual predictions from single verses, but a review of massive nation-shaping content that is ultimately fulfilled through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
1. The Sacrifice of Isaac
The Lord, who is adamantly against child sacrifice (Eze 16:21; 20:31), mysteriously commanded Abraham: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (22:2). Abraham, though certainly confused that his son of promise should be slaughtered, trusted the character of God and rose early the next morning to obey.
Upon arrival to the place, he laid the wood for the sacrifice upon Isaac and took the fire and knife in his own hand, and they started up the mountain. When Isaac questioned Abraham about the need for a sacrifice, his father answered, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (22:8). Abraham’s words proved true when, just before slaughtering Isaac, the angel of the Lord stayed his hand and directed him to sacrifice a ram that was caught in the nearby thicket. Isaac was delivered on the third day after the verdict on his life had been given and Abraham, in a sense, received his son back from the dead. The story concludes with a reaffirmation of God’s covenant with Abraham and this note: “So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide’ (Jehovah-Jireh); as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided’” (22:14).
The Sacrifice of Isaac in the New Testament
The parallels between this story and the story of Jesus show that God used Abraham to give the world a picture of the future sacrifice he himself would provide. Indeed, the only human sacrifice to which God ever would actually approve was that of his own Son, Jesus. Like Isaac, who willingly lay on the altar before his Father, Jesus would trustingly lay down his life in accordance with his Father’s will (Matt 26:39; John 4:34).
Jesus is God’s one-and-only Son. The wood for his sacrifice was placed upon his back (John 19:17), and he was offered upon the same mountain. (Jerusalem was built at the location of mount Moriah. The temple platform and Golgotha are both part of this mountain.) The New Testament ultimately attributes the sacrifice of Jesus to God’s doing (John 3:16; Acts 4:27-28; Rom 3:24-25) which means that the fire and knife for the sacrifice were ultimately in the Father’s hands. Further, the ram that was caught in the thicket, pictures the provision of God to offer a substitute for humanity, who himself bore a crown of thorns made from a thicket (Matt 27:29). Like Isaac, Jesus received back his life on the third day. Just as Abraham had predicted, Jehovah-Jireh has provided.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Exodus 11:1 – 13:16
The annual celebration of Passover commemorated the way in which the Lord delivered his people from bondage in Egypt. The events surrounding this deliverance are the most significant moments in Israel’s history because it displays God’s initiative to save his people and establish a free relationship with them. God, after promising his judgment upon the firstborn throughout all of Egypt in the tenth and final plague, prescribed a detailed ceremony for Israel to observe that would protect their children from “the destroyer.”
The people were to sacrifice a year old, spotless, male lamb and eat it inside their homes on the night of the plague. The blood of the lamb was to be smeared on the doorway to the house, both vertically on the side-posts and horizontally on the lintel. In Exodus 12:13, the Lord explains the purpose of this direction, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” The next morning, the people were on their way to freedom with the wails of the Egyptians in their ears and the riches of Egypt in their bags.
The Passover in the New Testament
When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming out to him, he cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). When Jesus celebrated the Passover feast with his disciples in the night before he was crucified, he said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). The next day, the sinless, one-and-only Son of God was sacrificed at Golgotha. His blood was smeared vertically and horizontally on the cross and became the sign of eternal deliverance for all God’s people from the bondage of sin.
1 Corinthians 5:7b Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
1 Peter 1:18-19 Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
3. The Day of Atonement
The Day of Atonement was the most sacred of the entire year for Israel. God prescribed a detailed process for the high priest that included a sacrifice for his own purification and then a sacrifice for the people. The blood from these sacrifices was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, also known as the “Mercy Seat.” All this took place inside the wilderness Tabernacle that was a detailed earthly representation of incredible heavenly realities (Ex 35-40).
Following these sacrifices, the high priest would lay his hands on the head of a “scape goat” to represent the transfer of the people’s sins from that year to the animal. The goat would then be led into the wilderness and released alive to be permanently removed from Israel. The effect of the Day of Atonement was that God’s wrath against sin would be appeased for one year under the ceremonial provision of the animal sacrifices.
The Day of Atonement in the New Testament
The body of the book of Hebrews (4:14-10:22) is an explanation of how Jesus eternally fulfills the patterns set forth in the Day of Atonement. The author masterfully demonstrates that Jesus fulfills both the role of the High Priest and the role of the sacrificial animals through his death and resurrection.
As High Priest, Jesus is superior to any of the previous Levitical priests of Israel who were limited by their own sinfulness and mortality. Because Christ is fully man, he is able to sympathize with the trials of his people and represent them before God. Because he is the risen Son of God, perfect and indestructible, he is able to perfectly minister forever as the mediator between God and men.
As the sacrificial offering for sin, Jesus is superior to the bulls and goats that had been offered for hundreds of years. Their blood was not sufficient to truly pay the ransom for men, otherwise they would not have needed to be offered year by year. But Christ had a body that God had prepared for him and he came to perfectly fulfill God’s will. In doing so, he was permitted to offer himself for sins once and for all.
Hebrews 7:23-27 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
Hebrews 9:24-26 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
4. The Bronze Serpent
On one of the many occasions that the Israelites grumbled against God and Moses in the wilderness, God judged them by sending “fiery serpents” to bite and kill many people. When the people cried out to Moses in repentance, Moses interceded for them before the Lord. Then the Lord instructed Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (21:8). Moses obeyed and constructed a snake out of bronze that became the means of salvation for everyone who was bitten. The same people who had been infected with the poison were saved by looking to an embodiment of the poison lifted high for all to behold.
The Bronze Serpent in the New Testament
Jesus understood this relatively obscure story from the wilderness wanderings to be an excellent picture of his atoning death on the cross. In John 3:14-15, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
Just as God’s way of grace in the wilderness had been an embodiment of the curse that he had sent upon the people, so also Christ bore the curse of sin on the cross. Just as a way of salvation had been provided without nullifying God’s decreed judgment, so also the cross of Jesus provides a way of salvation even in the face of God’s certain judgment upon the earth. Just as the lifted serpent had been the place for an afflicted person to look for salvation, so also the crucified Christ has become the source of eternal salvation for all sinners who look to him in faith.
Galatians 3:13-14 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us- for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
5. The Righteous Lamenter
Psalms 22, 31, 69, etc.
The value of lamenting is a major theme throughout Psalms. The righteous lamenter is a godly person who suffers at the hands of sinful men and in turn pours out his heart to God. The pattern is that the sufferer who trusts in the Lord will eventually see the light of life and rejoice with God’s people. This theme finds acute expression in several notable psalms in which the statements of both grief and trust take on major prophetic significance.
One example is Psalm 22 in which the author alternates between expressions of grief and expressions of confidence in God: “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him.’ . . . Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God” (22:7-10). A few verses later, he continues: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet” (22:14-16). He concludes with expressions of confidence: “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him” (22:22-24).
The Righteous Lamenter in the New Testament
Because Jesus is depicted in the New Testament as the perfectly righteous Son of God, one should expect from the pattern of the righteous lamenter that he would experience suffering at the hands of evil men on an ultimate level. Jesus’ death and resurrection fulfill the statements of the psalmists in precise ways.
On the cross, Jesus cried out from two righteous lamenter psalms: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psa 22:1a) “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psa 31:5a). These cries point us not only to those verses, nor merely to those Psalms, but really to the whole pattern of righteous suffering portrayed in the psalter. Further, Jesus’ death fulfilled specific expressions from these psalms in fantastic ways. For example, many of the expressions of Psalm 22 are shockingly applicable to his crucifixion even though crucifixion was not invented until hundreds of years after the psalm was written.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
6. The Secure King
Psalms 2, 16, 45, 110, etc.
Another type of psalm that appears throughout the psalter is that of the Messiah King who is eternally secure in his office as God’s Anointed One in spite of human resistance to his rule. Psalm 2:2 demonstrates the rebellion of humanity against God’s Messiah, “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed.” A few verses later, the Lord assures, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (2:6).
Psalm 16 expresses the security of the Messiah even in the face of the grave: “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol [the grave], or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (16:8-11).
The Secure King in the New Testament
In Acts 4:27-28, the gathered Christians pray to God with reference to the rebellion of the nations described in Psalm 2: “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached from the same verses of Psalm 16 quoted above. He explained, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:29-32).
Further, the New Testament repeatedly emphasizes Jesus’ resurrected position at “the right hand of God” waiting till the time he makes his enemies “a footstool for his feet” (Psa 110:1).
Hebrews 10:12-13 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.
7. The Suffering Servant
Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
Starting in chapter 40, the tone of Isaiah shifts from being predominantly of judgment upon sin to comfort for God’s people. As these chapters unfold, the role of the Lord’s “servant” in the plan of God is prominent. There appears to be a solidarity between the nation of Israel who is called to represent God as his servant among the nations and a prophetic individual servant who is called to represent Israel before God. In other words, the statements concerning God’s servant seem to have both a national and a Messianic significance.
In 52:13 – 53:12, the individual Messianic servant is clearly portrayed as one who will suffer an atoning death on behalf of God’s people: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. . . . But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (53:4-9). The chapter attributes this atoning death to the work of God: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief” (53:10a). The conclusion focuses on the resurrected power that the Messianic servant will experience: “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (53:11-12).
The Suffering Servant in the New Testament
The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes the atoning death of Christ as the heart of the gospel. Speaking of Christ, Peter declares, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet 2:24-25). Without the Messiah’s willingness to lay down his life, the salvation of God’s people would not be possible: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
Further, the specific descriptions concerning the death of the suffering servant find rich fulfillment in the details of the death of Jesus. He grew up in the land of Israel without any acclaim (53:2), was rejected by his people (53:3), was brutally crushed in death and bore the “bruises” and “stripes” of his beatings (53:4-6), was silent before his executioners as he willingly laid down his life (53:7-8), and was buried in a rich man’s tomb (53:9).
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.
The experience of the prophet Jonah is among the most incredible stories in the Old Testament. When his attempt to flee from the presence of the Lord landed him in the belly of “a great fish,” Jonah came to his senses and prayed a powerful lament that perfectly expresses the grief of Christ on the cross. The following is just one section: “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; Yet I shall again look upon your holy temple’” (Jonah 2:2-4). The Lord responded to this prayer, so that after three days in the fish (1:17), Jonah was vomited out on the shore (2:10).
Jonah in the New Testament
When the Pharisees, in their unbelief, demanded further signs from Jesus, Jesus replied, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matt 12:39-41).
Just as Jonah had drowned in the judgment waters of God, so also would Jesus. Just as Jonah had cried out from the depths of Sheol, so also would Jesus cry out from the cross. Just as Jonah was dead in the belly of the fish for three days, so also would Christ be in the grave for three days. Just as Jonah was restored to life and sent to preach judgment and salvation to Ninevah, so also Christ was raised and by his Spirit preaches his message of judgment and salvation to all the earth.
Acts 17:30-31 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.
9. The Seventy Weeks
Daniel experienced the entire time of Judah’s exile in Babylon that had been predicted by the prophets. Specifically, Jeremiah had predicted that the exile would last for seventy years (Jer 25:11-12; 29:10). Aware of Jeremiah’s prophecy and that the time was near, Daniel was motivated to pray for the complete restoration of Israel both physically and spiritually (Dan 9:1-19). God answered Daniel through a prophetic vision delivered by the angel Gabriel. In short, the vision revealed that God still had a longer time-frame that must be fulfilled before the complete restoration of Israel would be a reality (9:20-27).
In the prophetic language of the vision, seventy weeks of years (which total 490 years) were revealed until the restoration of God’s people would be complete. Within this time-frame, God revealed the exact time that the Messiah would appear: “From the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” (9:25). This verse reveals both a starting point, “the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem,” and a countdown to Messiah, “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” (sixty-nine weeks of years). The next verse predicts that after this period of time, “the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing” (9:26).
The Seventy-Weeks in the New Testament
All four gospels emphasize the importance of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the official presentation of Jesus as the Messiah to Israel. Speaking of the triumphal entry, Matthew explains, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden’’” (Matt 21:4-5).
In 444 B.C., King Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah permission to rebuild Jerusalem since it was still in ruins from the Babylonian destruction (Neh 2). Taking this decree as the starting point and understanding each year in the sixty-nine weeks of years as prophetic 360 day periods in accordance with a lunar cycle (cf. Dan 12:11-12; Rev 12:6,14), one should expect to see the Messiah in Jerusalem 173,880 days after Artaxerxes’ decree. This calculation lands on the year A.D. 33 which many believe is the exact year of Jesus’ triumphal entry. Five days after entering the city as the promised King, Jesus was “cut off” by being crucified. The math is simply uncanny. God is the God over history, and he sent Messiah at exactly his appointed time.
Galatians 4:4-5 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
10. Israel’s Final Deliverance
In the final three chapters of Zechariah, God speaks about the final deliverance of Israel that will lead to their permanent restoration. (This restoration coincides with the culmination of the seventieth week of Daniel which I believe has been put on pause by the ascension of Messiah for the sake of the gospel going forth throughout the earth.) Though God predicts that Israel will experience a final struggle against its enemies, he also promises himself to fight for the nation and provide ultimate rescue: “On that day the LORD will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, going before them. And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (Zech 12:8-9).
One of the aspects of this time of deliverance is that it will coincide with a time of repentance on the part of Israel. Central to this repentance will be an awareness of Israel’s former rejection of God: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zech 12:10).
Israel’s Final Deliverance in the New Testament
In the New Testament, the Jews are responsible as a nation for their rejection of God and his Messiah. What is more amazing is the definitive method of their rejection, namely, the “piercing” of the Son of God in his crucifixion. The prediction of Zechariah 12:10 uses enigmatic language that is only given a satisfying explanation in Christ. The Lord is speaking, yet he says that Israel will look “on me” and “on him whom they have pierced”? How could the nation pierce God through? Christ was God himself and literally pierced by Israel on the cross. Further, he was the only son of God fulfilling the notion that they would mourn for God as one “mourns for an only child.”
In Romans 11:25-26, Paul further explains that though Israel is currently under hardened rejection of God’s salvation, there will be a day when they return to the Lord in a national revival: “I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob’; ‘and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’” During this time, Israel will indeed mourn over him whom they have pierced and believe in the resurrected Christ.
Acts 2:36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
What about you?
When you learn of these prophecies, how does it impact you? The Bible is an incredible fabric woven with prophetic themes and stories that reveal the true identity of Jesus Christ, the supreme importance of his sacrifice and resurrection, and the urgency of trusting in him today for salvation.
Are you moved by the wonder of what God has revealed and accomplished? Are you drawn to Jesus by his prophetic Word? Do you agree with Paul that understanding these things is of “first importance”? If so, trust him today for your salvation.
Acts 2:37-39 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Romans 10:9-13 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”