Was the Messiah Predicted in the Old Testament?

By Adam Lloyd Johnson, Ph.D.

In Galatians Paul wrote that the Law served as a “tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). Even though Paul was specifically referring to the Mosaic Law, the same could be said concerning the Old Testament as a whole. The Messiah, His person, His work, and His ministry were anticipated through allusion and imagery, not the least of which was the establishment of a theology concerning substitutionary atonement. This laid the groundwork for understanding our need for a Messiah because it explained how we came to be the wretched beings that we are, why God’s moral righteousness means our situation is so dire, and what must be done to reconcile us back to the loving relationship with God we were created for.

Beyond providing a general framework of anticipation for “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), the Old Testament also makes very specific predictions concerning the Messiah. When the first few disciples encountered Jesus after He had been baptized by John, they exclaimed, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). The purpose of this article is to consider several of these specific predictions and show how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled them.

General Prophecies

Many Messianic prophecies are general in nature and could be argued to be so to such a degree that they lack strong evidential value. For example, many Christian theologians believe that the first reference in Scripture to a coming Messiah was given shortly after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden.1 As part of God’s punishment on the serpent for his involvement in the Fall, God said to him, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Gen. 3:15).

Considering that the rest of this indictment dealt with the serpent’s physical form, and especially since he was cursed to crawl on his belly as opposed to ostensibly walking upright, some, including John Calvin, have wondered if this enmity should be taken more literally. Namely, that the descendants of the woman, being humans in general, would be at odds with the descendants of the serpent, or snakes in general. Since they have been banished to the lowly position of crawling on the ground, the discord between the two descendants could simply be that snakes will bite people on the foot and they in turn will step on their heads. In other words, some believe this should be taken literally instead of spiritualizing it as referring to a future Messiah.

Paul does seem to allude to this as a Messianic prophecy in the New Testament when he writes, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20). However, here it is the church, the followers of Christ, who will crush Satan. Another possibility is that it has a literal fulfillment in terms of humans with snakes and a spiritual fulfillment in terms of Christ and Satan. Many Old Testament prophecies have similar near-term fulfillments in addition to far-term fulfillments. For example, in Genesis 12:3 and Genesis 22:18, God promised Abraham that through one of his descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed. This was fulfilled in the near term when “the people of all the earth came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the earth” (Gen. 41:57) in addition to being fulfilled in the long term by the Messiah when he provided salvation to the world (Gal. 3:8).

More Specific Prophecies

If the prophecies thus far discussed seem too nebulous, Daniel’s prediction concerning the precise time Messiah would arise should alleviate any qualms. Daniel was told by the angel Gabriel that “from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” (Dan. 9:25). This decree was given by Artaxerxes to Nehemiah in 445 B.C. (Neh. 2:1-8); hence, this is the starting point of Daniel’s prophetic timetable.

After the beginning of the seventy weeks is established, we can dial the clock forward from there to discover exactly when the time of Messiah was supposed to have taken place. From Daniel’s perspective this was obviously a prophecy of coming events, but we can look back in history and see its fulfillment. After the decree is issued to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, there will be seven weeks, which is forty-nine years, and then sixty-two weeks, which is 434 more years, for a total of 483 years until Messiah.

The term Messiah is an adjective that means anointed. Specifically, Daniel refers to Him as Messiah the Prince. This is not a fairy tale prince as we think of it but instead is the ruler or leader of a people, much like a king. It is at Jesus’ triumphal entry when He, in fulfillment of Zech. 9:9, is presented to the nation Israel as their anointed King (cf. Matt. 21:1-11). Since we began our starting point at 445 B.C., it would at first seem the only thing left to do is to come forward 483 years. Doing so brings us to AD 38 but unfortunately this is after the crucifixion of Christ.

However, it’s important to consider how the Jews calculated their calendar years. Walvoord explained that “it is customary for the Jews to have twelve months of 360 days each and then to insert a thirteenth month occasionally when necessary to correct the calendar. The use of the 360-day year is confirmed by the forty-two months of the great tribulation (Rev. 11:2; Rev. 13:5) being equated with 1,260 days (Rev. 12:6; Rev. 11:3).”2 Robert Anderson has used such a methodology to determine that the 483 years culminated “in A.D. 32 on the very day of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem shortly before His crucifixion.”3 There is some controversy over Anderson’s calculations, but “the plausibility of a literal interpretation, which begins the period in 445 B.C and culminates just before the death of Christ, makes this view very attractive.”4

It seems to me that this prophecy is incredibly impressive. It even predicts that the Messiah would arrive sometime in the AD 30s. After all, Daniel’s prophecy isn’t about days but seven-year periods (what Daniel calls ‘weeks’). In other words, if someone predicted a meteor would fall from the sky and break my arm next month, I would be impressed whether that happened at the beginning of next month or the end of next month. Similarly, since the time period Daniel’s prophecy uses is seven-year periods, I would be impressed as long as the Messiah appeared within the seven-year period in which He was predicted to arrive.

Daniel’s prophecy continued by stating that after the sixty-two weeks (Dan. 9:26) the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing. After the second of the first two periods are over with, so after 483 years from when the seventy weeks begins, it is said that the Messiah just introduced in verse 25 will be cut off. This term is most often used to refer to cutting something down but is also used to mean “killed” in the Old Testament. It also says he will “have nothing” (Dan 9:26), possibly in the sense that what was entitled to him as Messiah he will, in fact, not receive. How could the Messiah accomplish all of these things listed in Daniel 9:24 by being cut off, i.e., killed? Another remarkable Old Testament prophecy, Isaiah 53, explains how this will happen. Therefore, I agree with Walvoord when he wrote that the “natural interpretation of verse 26 is that it refers to the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross.”5 (For a more detailed explanation of the prophecy of “seventy weeks of years” in Daniel 9, refer to “Seventy Weeks of Years: A Commentary on Daniel 9:24-27.”)

Unfulfilled Prophecies

It should also be noted that there are numerous Messianic prophecies that the historic Jesus of Nazareth did not fulfill literally. For example, many of the prophets said the Messiah would be “given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him” (Dan. 7:14) and that He would rule over a “kingdom which will never be destroyed” (Dan. 2:44). Among those who believe the Old Testament is God’s inerrant Word, there have historically been three ways to interpret this situation.

First, some have concluded from this that Jesus of Nazareth was not the true Messiah and are still looking for His arrival. Orthodox Jews today would obviously fall in this category. Second, some have affirmed Jesus as the Messiah and claim He fulfilled these types of prophecies not literally but spiritually. For example, some Christians, such as preterist theologians and some covenant theologians, hold that with the kingdom prophecies, the “the inference is to a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly one.”6 In other words, Jesus spiritually rules today as the King of people’s hearts. They refer to other various New Testament texts such as Col. 1:13, Mark 1:14-15, John 18:36, and Rev. 1:9 to support the idea that the Messiah’s kingdom is only spiritual. Third, some believe that Jesus qualifies as the Messiah because of all the literal prophecies which He did fulfill and then look still to the future for Him to fulfill the others literally as well. These Christians, such as dispensational theologians, believe that someday Jesus of Nazareth will return and rule the world from David’s throne in Jerusalem.

An important question in this disagreement between Christian theologians is this: are there any precedents in Biblical prophecy for two events being described as seemingly taking place simultaneously, or continuously, but that we know from their fulfillment actually occured at different times with a chronological gap in between? Jesus Himself seems to propose this understanding of Isaiah 61:1-3 where the first half of the sentence concerns the proclamation of good news and freedom and the second half discusses God’s day of vengeance. Jesus read the first half of this section in the synagogue and explained He was the fulfillment (cf. Luke 4:18-19), but He ended the quote before it talked about vengeance. Therefore, it seems at least reasonable to expect that Jesus will eventually fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah in a literal sense.


[1] Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2006), 610.

[2] John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1989), 228.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 229.

[6] Jessie E. Mills, Jr., Daniel: Fulfilled Prophecy (Bradford, PA: International Preterist Association, 2003), 18-19.

Convincing Proof