Overview of the Major Prophets: How well do you know the Jewish Bible?

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Major Prophets*Isaiah
740-700 B.C. [1]
Jeremiah
626–587 B.C [1]
Ezekiel
582-570 B.C. [1]
Daniel
604-535 B.C. [1]
Key Themes
  • Warning of impending exile and promise of return
  • The coming Messiah and Messianic age
  • God’s sovereignty as demonstrated in historical events and the fulfillment of prophecy
  • The holiness and majesty of God
  • God’s sovereignty over individual lives as well as over nations and history (Compare with Isaiah, who more strongly emphasizes the latter.)
  • Acceptance of God’s chastisement (by Israel in captivity) as a way to healing (see Jeremiah 29:4-7)
  • Jeremiah was the son of a priest and, under usual circumstances, he, too, would have served in that capacity.
  • The holiness of God: Whereas Isaiah depicts God’s holiness in terms of His sovereignty over nations and history, Ezekiel emphasizes God’s transcendent, awe-inspiring nature as shown in his prophetic visions.
  • Responsibility before God: Chapter 18 of Ezekiel underscores the need of each person—and each generation—to confront their own sin. Moreover, those entrusted as “watchman” are obligated to speak out in the face of evil (see Ezekiel 3:17, 33:2-9).
  • God’s sovereignty over individual lives, over history and particularly over political powers and human evil
  • Living faithfully and wisely as a believer in a non-believing environment
Points of Interest
  • Isaiah is a contemporary of Hosea and Micah.
  • He is called “prince of the prophets” because of the grandeur of his prophecy.
  • Chapter 6 inspired the famous hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
  • Chapters 1-39 focus on warning and judgment; chapters 40-66 focus on redemption and hope.
  • During Isaiah’s ministry, the northern kingdom of Israel was taken captive to Assyria (722 B.C.).
  • Isaiah contains key messianic passages (see NT Connection) including the famous “Suffering Servant” passage (52:13-53:12) that ultimately specifies a particular individual from Israel who would undergo a vicarious death for the sins of his people.
  • The scope of the book moves beyond Israel’s history to the redemption of the world.
  • He ministered during the reign of the last four kings of Judah just before the Babylonian Captivity.
  • His message progressed from a call to repent and avert captivity, to the certainty of captivity and a call to accept it as divine punishment en route to restoration.
  • Contains the famous “New Covenant” prophecy (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
  • The Messiah is called the “Branch” (Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:15-16).
  • The Messianic king is to be called “the Lord Our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16)
  • Jeremiah is often called the “Weeping Prophet,” because of turmoil and pain in the face of plots on his life, jailings, and beatings from those who heard his message.
  • Verses 33:10-11 form part of the Jewish wedding ceremony (the last of the Seven Benedictions).
  • Ezekiel was a priest and was among the captives in Babylon at the time he wrote.
  • His messages were often proclaimed through drama or performance art; for example, lying on his side in public (chapter 4), attacking his shaved-off hair with a sword (chapter 5).
  • Unlike Jeremiah’s audience, Ezekiel’s fellow captives enjoyed hearing him, but seemed to have considered him nothing more than entertainment! (Ezekiel 33:30-33)
  • Contains the prophecy of the restoration of Israel, including the vision of dry bones coming together and putting on flesh (Ezekiel 37:1-14)
  • Gives extensive vision of a future Temple in the land of Israel in chapters 40-48
  • The book contains many fantastic visions, including God on His throne in chapter one. Some authors have taken this passage out of context, and spawned such fanciful theories as Ezekiel as an epileptic or God having come from outer space!
  • Takes place during Daniel’s captivity in Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius the Mede and Cyrus.
  • Is written in both Hebrew (1:1-2:4a; 8:1-12:13) and Aramaic (2:4b-7:28)
  • In the Jewish arrangement of biblical books, Daniel is not included in the Prophets, but in the Writings.
  • The phrase “the writing on the wall” comes from chapter 5:5-28.
  • Includes famous stories of Daniel in the fiery furnace (chapter 3) and in the lion’s den (chapter 6)
  • Daniel 9:24-27 is generally understood by the church as a “time frame” for the first coming of the Messiah (though not quoted in the New Testament)
  • Includes end-times visions (see NT connection)
  • Mentions resurrection of the dead in 12:2
New Testament Connection
  • Many passages in Isaiah are fulfilled in the NT, including:
  • The coming of John the Baptist (compare Isaiah 40:1-3 with Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:2, Luke 4:17; John 1:23)
  • Jesus’ virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14/ Matthew 1:22-23)
  • His ministry in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2/ Matthew 4:12-16)
  • His healing and mercy ministries (Isaiah 53:4/ Matthew 8:17; Isaiah 42:1-13/ Matthew 12:15-21)
  • The nature of the human heart (compare Isaiah 6:10 to Matthew 13:14-15, Mark 7:6, John 12:40, and Acts 28:26-27; also compare Isaiah 29:13 to Matthew 15:7-9)
  • The remnant of believing Israel (compare Isaiah 1:9 with Romans 9:29 and Isaiah 10:22 with Romans 9:27-28)
  • The coming of Gentiles to faith (Compare Isaiah 65:1 with Romans 10:20; Isaiah 11:10/ Romans 15:12)
  • Philip finds the Ethiopian eunuch perplexed over Isaiah 53 and explains that it is speaking about Jesus. (Acts 8:26-39)
  • Jeremiah’s prophecies are fulfilled in:
  • Herod’s massacre of the children (Jeremiah 31:15) cited in Matthew 2:18
  • The coming of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), cited in Hebrews 8:8-12 and alluded to in Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6, Hebrews 9:15; 12:24).
  • The cleansing of the Temple (Jeremiah 7:11), cited in Matthew 21:13
  • God’s sovereignty in the calling of the Gentiles (Romans 9:20-24) alludes to Jeremiah 18:6
  • Significant quotes from and allusions to Ezekiel include:
  • Exhortations against God’s people profaning God’s name by their lifestyle: Ezekiel 36:22, cited in Romans 2:24.
  • Gog and Magog, mentioned in Ezekiel chs. 38-39, are mentioned in Revelation 20:8 in connection with the final battle of history.
  • The “river of life” in Ezekiel 47:12 is again described in Revelation 22:1-2.
  • Jesus’ title for himself, “Son of Man,” reflects back to the supernatural figure in Daniel 7:13 — and actually is a title indicative of Jesus’ deity more than of his humanity.
  • “Coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62) likewise is a reference to Daniel 7:13; see also Revelation 1:7 (combining Daniel 7:13 with Zechariah 12:10).
  • “Abomination that causes desolation” in Matthew 24:15-16 refers to Daniel 9:2, 11:31, 12:11.
  • Revelation’s portrayal of Jesus in 1:13-14 is taken from Daniel 7:9, 13.
  • Lions’ den and fiery furnace stories alluded to in Hebrews 11:33-34.
For further study
  • Motyer, J. Alec. Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary. (InterVarsity, 1999).
  • Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah (2 volumes). (Eerdmans, 1986, 1998).
  • Brown, Michael L. “Jeremiah.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revised Edition, vol. 7. (Zondervan, 2010). Brown is a Jewish believer in Jesus.
  • Thompson, John A. The Book of Jeremiah. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980).
  • Alexander, Ralph H. “Ezekiel.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revised Edition, vol. 7. (Zondervan, 2010).
  • Block, Daniel I. The Book of Ezekiel (2 volumes). (Eerdmans, 1997, 1998).
  • Hill, Andrew E. “Daniel.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revised Edition, vol. 8, (Zondervan, 2008).
  • Longman III, Tremper. Daniel. (Zondervan, 1999).

*Major (as compared to minor) refers to the length of these books, not their importance. With the exception of Daniel, the major prophets are considerably longer than the minor prophets.

Dates from New Bible Commentary, p. 627. Some of this chart builds on comments in the New Bible Commentary and in An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd ed., by Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard (Zondervan, 2006).