DALLAS (BP)–Hope for a future Messiah is a key theme in every book of the Old Testament, a Moody Bible Institute professor of Jewish studies told a Criswell College class in early January.
Michael Rydelnik of Chicago examined messianic prophecy in the Old Testament and in the context of the whole Bible during a five-day class in conjunction with Criswell’s newly formed Institute of Jewish Studies.
In “reading the Hebrew Bible the way it’s intended to be read,” Rydelnik said, it becomes evident “that, in its entirety, in its fabric, messianic hope is built into it.”
Every passage in the Old Testament was not intended as a straightforward prediction of the Messiah, but every passage was intended to make readers anticipate a coming king who would fulfill God’s promises to His people, Rydelnik said.
By looking at the compositional structures of Old Testament books and thinking about the message Old Testament authors intended to convey, Christians can recognize the messianic hope present under the old covenant, he said.
Rydelnik underscored the power of messianic prophecy by pointing to its effect in his own life. As a young Jewish man he was converted to faith in Christ by studying the messianic hope within the Old Testament, he said.
By teaching others about the Old Testament’s hope for a messiah, Rydelnik hopes to play a role in transforming many additional lives.
“In my life messianic prophecies had a transforming effect because that’s how I came to believe in Jesus,” he told Baptist Press. “I came to believe that He fulfilled those prophecies. As a result of that I have made it a very significant portion of my studies.”
Messianic hope is evident, for example, in the narratives of 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, Rydelnik said. God’s promise that David would have a descendant with an eternal throne should cause readers to anticipate the reign of Christ, he said.
“With every Davidic king you think, ‘Is this possibly the one?'” Rydelnik said. “The author wants us to think that. And then he shows how all of them fail, and in the end the Davidic dynasty crashes and burns under the Babylonians. The book ends that way and … we’re still looking for that son of David who’s going to have an eternal house, throne and kingdom.”
Another example of messianic hope Rydelnik pointed to in the Old Testament is the promise of Deuteronomy 18 that God would raise up another prophet like Moses. When Moses died in Deuteronomy 34, the author recorded that another prophet like Moses had not arisen in Israel. The absence of another prophet like Moses points readers forward to Christ as the promised prophet, Rydelnik said.
New Testament authors were aware of the Old Testament messianic hope and frequently referred to events in the life of Jesus as fulfillments of the Old Testament, he said.
“The New Testament authors were very sensitive and knew precisely what the Hebrew Bible taught,” Rydelnik said. “And they saw things that maybe sometimes we miss unless we are very careful readers of the Hebrew Bible ourselves.”
At times it may appear that New Testament authors apply prophecies to Jesus that were originally intended as references to the nation of Israel, Rydelnik said. One example of this occurs in Matthew 2:15 when the Bible says that Jesus came out of Egypt “to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.'”
New Testament authors are fully justified in applying such prophecies to Jesus, however, because God established a principle in the Old Testament that the nation of Israel would serve as a type of the coming king, Rydelnik said. When the nation of Israel came out of Egypt, for example, it established a pattern that the coming messiah would follow, he said.
Because of the New Testament authors’ sensitivity to what the Hebrew Bible was saying, Rydelnik said, “It’s not as conjectural or random as we are led to believe.
“Very early in the Pentateuch, a type is established that what God would do for the nation, He would also do for her king.”
Understanding the Old Testament messianic hope is vital for Christians today because fulfilled messianic prophecy provides assurance of Jesus’ divinity, Rydelnik said.
“We believe that Jesus is the messiah of Israel and the world because He fulfills messianic prophecy,” the professor said. “That’s what He Himself established as the basis for believing in Him. He fulfilled what the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms had said about Him.”
Understanding messianic prophecy also gives believers confidence that the Bible is a coherent whole proclaiming the infallible message of salvation, Rydelnik said.
“The Bible is not two random books stuck together, Old and New Testaments. But rather, it’s one book that is clearly united, and the link between the two [testaments] is messianic prophecy. We can trust in the Bible and trust in God because that book is confirmed by messianic prophecy.”