In presenting Old Testament information about the Messiah to unbelievers, it is helpful to structure the material in as uncomplicated a manner as possible. Use Scripture passages that go from the general to the specific. That is, present the evidence to demonstrate that as the biblical data becomes more detailed, the number of qualified candidates” for the “office of Messiah” narrows remarkably.
The following diagram is most useful in teaching this kind of lesson. Construct it circle by circle, from the outside in. Take time as you lay down each circle to explain clearly the essentials of the biblical data, and emphasize that the points being made can be supported from many other texts as well. It is a good idea, however, to use as few texts as possible in order to preserve the simplicity of the presentation. Summarize the gist of the passage rather than read all of it. Too much reading, especially if the person is unfamiliar with Bible language, will diminish the learner’s attention level as the presentation progresses.
- Messiah’s Humanity (Genesis 3:15)
- Messiah’s Jewishness (Genesis 12:1-3; 28:10-15)
- Messiah’s Tribe (Genesis 49:10)
- Messiah’s Family (II Samuel 7:16; Jeremiah 23:5, 6)
- Messiah’s Birthplace (Micah 5:2)
- Messiah’s Life, Reception and Death (Isaiah 52:13; 53)
- Chronology of Messiah’s Appearing (Daniel 9:24-26)
Circle 1 — The Circle of Humanity
The Messiah had to be a human being. He could not be an angel or some kind of extraterrestrial. The first circle, as do all subsequent circles, serves a double purpose. It defines some aspect of the Messiah’s identity, at the same time excluding all classes of persons who do not fit that particular specification.
For Circle #1 use Genesis 3:1-15, focusing on the 15th verse. If your Jewish friend has reservations about the historicity of the Adam and Eve account, literal interpretation of the passage need not be the issue at this point. Rather, the issue is the inherent lesson which is true apart from the question of historicity. (Throughout this lesson it will be helpful to avoid peripheral issues.)
The serpent in this passage is generally regarded as a personification of Satan. (The popular image of Satan as a red, horned being with pitchfork and tail has no justification in the Bible, but springs from medieval speculation and artistic imagination.)
The term “seed,” sometimes translated as “descendant” or “descendants,” is a collective term that may apply to an individual or to a group, or even to both at the same time, depending upon the context. The Hebrew word is zerah.
According to this account a curse is pronounced upon the serpent and his seed (descendant or descendants) and upon the seed of humankind. In verse 15 we learn that the serpent will bruise or wound the heel of the seed of the woman and that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. This is taken to mean that the seed of the woman—epitomized in the Messiah—will be wounded by Satan, while at the same time the Messiah will crush Satan (render him powerless). This is the first messianic promise in the Bible.
Circle 2 — The Circle of Jewishness
The Messiah had to be Jewish, i.e., a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This further reduces the number of prospective “candidates” for the “office of Messiah.” Of all those who ever lived, only Jewish people would qualify for that position. Thus, persons like Sun Myung Moon are disqualified early.
Among the passages that may be used here are the following (which use the same term “seed” used in Genesis 3:15). In these we can see that God purposely engaged in a process of continuity and progressive restriction in his revelation about the Messiah (cf. Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 26:3-4; Genesis 28:10-15). Thus the promised seed comes through Abraham, to one of his sons, Isaac, and to one of his sons, Jacob. (Here too, whenever the word “descendants” appears, it is a translation of the Hebrew collective term zerah, explained above.
Circle 3 — The Circle of Tribal Identity
The Messiah had to be from the tribe of Judah. Having traced the Messiah to Abraham, his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob, we now consider Genesis 49:10. We see Jacob on his deathbed. In Chapter 49 he blesses his 12 sons, each of whom will be the progenitor of one of the 12 tribes of Israel. Verse 10 specifies that Shiloh (a term recognized by the rabbis as messianic) will come through the tribe of Judah. This tribe is to rule the others until the coming of the Messiah, in whom all rulership will be epitomized and completed. (Note that here, as well as in the previous passages, “the peoples” [Gentiles] are included in God’s purposes for the Messiah.)
Circle 4 — The Circle of Family
The Messiah had to be from David’s family (read II Samuel 7:1-16). Of all the families descended from Judah, God promised David’s family a dynasty that would culminate in an everlasting reign—that of the Messiah, the Son of David. (Other passages that support this include Isaiah 11:1ff and Jeremiah 23:5-6.)
Circle 5 — The Circle of Birthplace
The Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem. Although the kingship of David was a high point in Israel’s history, from there it deteriorated. David’s descendants were morally and spiritually inferior to David. Instead of leading the people in the worship of the one true God, they led them into idolatry and immorality. This eventually resulted in the Babylonian Captivity (586 B.C.). On the brink of this cataclysm, God sent word through the prophet Micah that despite the failure of the people and their rulers and Judah’s imminent fall, the promise of a Messiah would not fail. He promised that the Messiah would come, and that he would be born in David’s home city, Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2).
At this point, the roster of possible “candidates for Messiah” has narrowed remarkably: He must be a human being, a Jew, from the tribe of Judah and the family of David, and he must be born in Bethlehem, a small city that was actually more of an overgrown village. No matter how impressive a person’s credentials might be, failure to meet all of these criteria would disqualify him.
Circle 6 — The Circle of Messiah’s Manner of Life, Reception and Death
The manner of the Messiah’s life and death was clearly described in Isaiah 53. Although certainly the entire chapter bears investigation, for the purposes of this presentation it is only necessary to deal with verses 1-4 and 7-9. From these verses, the following points should be made:
1. The Messiah would be despised and rejected by the Jewish people.
2. The Messiah would die as the result of judicial proceeding.
3. The Messiah would be guiltless in act and in word (“he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth”). Yet despite his innocence, he would be tried and convicted, and when he died, our people would think that he was getting only what he deserved (“…we did esteem him…smitten of God, and afflicted”).
Here, as elsewhere in the presentation, it would be helpful to summarize the data: Whoever the Messiah was, he would be a Jewish man from the tribe of Judah, born in Bethlehem from the family of David. He would be an innocent party whose death would come by a judicial proceeding, and whose death would be interpreted by the Jewish people as his just desert. Although other points are obvious, such as the vicarious nature of Messiah’s death, it is not necessary to make formal reference to them. Rather let the text speak for itself. The key here, as all the way through this presentation, is UNDERSTATEMENT. Let the accumulation of evidence make the point for you. Don’t try to “sell it.”
Circle 7 — The Circle of Chronology
Read Daniel 9:24-26. Whoever the Messiah was/is, he had to come before the destruction of the Second Temple. Daniel was a young man, actually a boy, when the Babylonian Captivity occurred. In Chapter 9 we see him as an old man. Realizing that God had foretold that the captivity would last 70 years, and that the 70 years were almost completed, Daniel began to fast and pray, confessing his sins and those of the people. Although Daniel was concerned with an immediate situation, i.e., the rebuilding of the city and the Temple and the end of the captivity, God’s answer embraced the entire problem of sin and redemption. He spoke to Daniel of the coming of the Messiah and stated the following: 1) The city would be rebuilt, as would the Temple. 2) The Messiah would come. 3) The Messiah would be “cut off” (die) but not for himself. 4) The city and the Temple would be destroyed.
Thus, whatever else this admittedly cryptic passage means, one thing is certain: The Messiah had to come and die during the time of the Second Temple and before its destruction in 70 A.D.
In all ways, Yeshua fits the prophetic descriptions of the promised Redeemer.