Prophecies fulfilled by the birth of Jesus

The Old Testament of the Bible was written before the time of Jesus. It contains many prophecies about a Messiah, someone who would suffer and die for the sins of others and yet also be eternal. The Old Testament was written over a period of time that lasted as many as a thousand years, from the time of Moses, about 3,400 years ago, through the time of Malachi, about 2,400 years ago. The prophetic revelations accumulated over that time, creating a progressively detailed portrait of the Messiah.

The following prophecies involve the lineage and birth of the Messiah.


The writing of the Old Testament was completed a few centuries before the time of Jesus and within it is a series of prophecies about the lineage of the Messiah. These prophecies involve a promise that a particular offspring will have a worldwide impact, that he will be a blessing to the world.

The promise initially is given to Abraham, and later handed down to his son Isaac, and then to Isaac's son, Jacob. Eventually the promise is handed down to Jesse and Jesse's son King David.

With each generation, the prophecy accumulates more details and it eventually becomes clear that Abraham's bloodline would produce the Messiah.

Jesus is recorded in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke as being a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesse and David. In fact, in ancient times, rabbis often used the phrase "son of David" as a way to refer to the promised Messiah.

The prophecies begin in the book of Genesis, which is believed to be the oldest book of the Old Testament. There, a man named Abraham has heard the voice of God and has been obedient to it. On God's command he left his homeland of Ur, which is believed to be located in what is now modern-day Iraq, and has taken his household to the land of Canaan, which would later become the land of Israel.

In Genesis 22:18, for example, there is a prophecy that the nations of the world would be blessed through Abraham's "seed," or "offspring," depending on the English translation of the underlying Hebrew word:

and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me. (Genesis 22:18, NIV)

As explained in later verses of the Bible, the prophetic promise of a worldwide blessing is handed down from Abraham to some of his specifically named descendants. At times, details are added, and it becomes clearer that the promise ultimately involves the Messiah.

Abraham and his wife Sarah later have a son named Isaac. Although Abraham had children with more than one woman, Genesis 26:1-5 reveals that it would be Isaac, who was Abraham's only child through his wife, Sarah, who would be Abraham's descendant through whom all nations on earth would be blessed:

1 Now there was a famine in the land-besides the previous famine in Abraham's time-and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar. 2 The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, "Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. 3 Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions." (Genesis 26:1-5, NIV)

Isaac later has a son named Jacob and in later verses of Genesis we learn that it is Jacob through whom the blessing will be extended.

In Genesis 28:13,14, it was revealed that the world would be blessed through Jacob's offspring:

13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. (Genesis 28:13,14, NIV)

In earlier verses of Genesis, this promise is given to Abraham. Later, it is revealed that it would be fulfilled through Abraham's son Isaac. And in these verses above, it is revealed that it would continue to be fulfilled through Isaac's son Jacob.

In other words, God decided that the world would be blessed through Abraham's "offspring" or "seed" through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob, rather than through any of Abraham's other children or grandchildren.

Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel, became the father of the patriarchs of the 12 Tribes of Israel. Jacob/Israel lived about 4,000 years ago, which is about 2,000 years before the time of Jesus.

The promise is handed down generations later to Jesse, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The prophecy involving Jesse is found in the book of Isaiah, specifically in Isaiah 11:1-10. Those verses, among other things, affirmed that the Messiah would be a descendant of Jesse, who was King David's father. Isaiah's prophecy also echoed a sentiment found in other prophecies, that the Messiah would have an impact on people far beyond the land of Israel.

This sentiment was recognized and commented upon by early Christian writers outside of the Bible. As explained by Justin Martyr, a Christian writer who lived during the second century of this era:

"And Isaiah, another prophet, foretelling the same things in other words, spoke thus : 'A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a flower shall spring from the root of Jesse; and His arm shall the nations trust.'"
- The First Apology of Justin, Chapter XXXII.

Jesus is recorded as being a descendant of Jesse in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke.

Here is Isaiah 11:1-10:

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord- 3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. 6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 The infant will play near the cobra's den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper's nest. 9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:1-10, NIV)

Finally, the promise is handed down to Jesse's son, David.

During ancient times, Jews often referred to the promised Messiah as the "son of David," meaning he was to be a descendant of King David.

One of the prophecies revealing that the Messiah would be a descendant of David can be found in Jeremiah 23:5. There, the prophet spoke of a time when a "branch" of David, which in this context means a descendant of David, would rise up and rule with true righteousness and justice.

This is similar to the phrasing used in Isaiah 11:1, which is part of a prophecy that, among other things, showed that the Messiah would be a descendant of Jesse, who was David's father.

King David lived about 3,000 years ago. He was Israel's second king, but he was the first of many kings from the Tribe of Judah. Jeremiah lived about 2,600 years ago, about 600 years before Jesus arrived and announced that he was the Messiah.

In the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus is recorded as being a descendant of King David, as well as David's father, Jesse, and other ancestors, including Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. The genealogy listed in Matthew 1:1-17 shows Jesus' ancestors through his adoptive father, Joseph. The genealogy in Luke 3:23-38 also includes David, Jesse, Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. Some scholars believe that the genealogy in the book of Luke shows Jesus' ancestors through his mother, Mary.

Here is the prophecy from Jeremiah:

"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. (Jeremiah 23:5, NIV)

Birth of the Messiah

The prophet Isaiah has the longest book of prophecy within the Bible. He provided details about the nature of the birth of the Messiah.

In Isaiah, chapter 7, the prophet delivered a long prophecy that involved the future of Judah and the "house of David," which is a phrase that refers to the descendants of King David. In Isaiah 7:13,14, the prophet specifically addressed the house of David:

13 Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:13,14, NIV)

In these verses of Isaiah, the prophet is informing the descendants of King David that God himself would give them a sign: A virgin would conceive and give birth to a son, and the son would be called Immanuel, which in Hebrew means "God with us" or "God is with us."

As explained in the New Testament, the Messiah, Jesus, who was born about 700 years later, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus is fully human and fully God. As such, he can be called, in the fullest and most literal sense, "God with us."

Two of the Gospels in the New Testament describe the circumstances involving the birth of Jesus and both testify that Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38). Both of these Gospels also record that Jesus is a descendant of King David.

The Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 that is being translated into English as "virgin," is the Hebrew word alma. Some commentators have claimed that the word should be translated as "maiden" or "young woman." But, in addition to the fact that maidens were religiously and culturally expected to be virgins until marriage, the word alma is used elsewhere in the Bible in reference to virgins.

According to one scholarly work: "There is no instance where it can be proved that alma designates a young woman who is not a virgin. The fact of virginity is obvious in Gen 24:43 where alma is used of one who was being sought as a bride for Isaac." - R. Laird Harris, et al, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.

Location of the Messiah's birth

In Micah 5:2, there is a prophecy that revealed that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah:

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2, NIV)

The prophecy, which was written about 700 years before the birth of Jesus, is effective in a simple way: It eliminates all other cities and towns throughout the world as a place in which the Messiah would be born. It narrows the possibilities to one tiny village, near Jerusalem.

And throughout the span of the past 27 centuries, since the time of the prophet Micah, Bethlehem is credited as being the birthplace for Jesus, the only person who has ever been widely accepted as being the Messiah by people throughout the world.

Timing of the Messiah's birth

The timing of the Messiah's birth also was alluded to in prophecies within the Old Testament.

In Genesis 49, there is a passage that many commentators throughout the ages have regarded as being a prophecy about the timing of the arrival of the Messiah:

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. (Genesis 49:10, KJV)

The Hebrew word that is rendered as Shiloh in the KJV English translation is sometimes translated in other ways. The NIV English translators, for example, use the word he. Regardless of how the word is rendered into English, Christian and non-Christian commentators have traditionally regarded the passage as Messianic.

Justin Martyr, a Christian writer who lived during the second century of this era, described this prophecy as meaning that the descendants of Judah were to have a continuity of rulers and lawgivers until the Messiah arrived:

"It is yours to make accurate inquiry, and ascertain up to whose time the Jews had a lawgiver and king of their own. Up to the time of Jesus Christ, who taught us, and interpreted the prophecies which were not yet understood, [they had a lawgiver] as was foretold by the holy and divine Spirit of prophecy through Moses, 'that a ruler would not fail the Jews until He should come for whom the kingdom was reserved' (for Judah was the forefather of the Jews, from whom also they have their name of Jews);"
- Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin, Chapter XXXII.

Some commentators have suggested that the Jews had a continuous succession of rulers, in various forms, whether as kings or as governors, etc., from the days of King David through the time of Jesus, and that this continuity was broken during the time of Jesus. Martin Luther, for example, suggested in his writings that it was the reign of King Herod, an Idumean who had been appointed by the Romans to govern the Jews, who marked the break in the continuity of rulers.

And, as Justin mentioned in his writings, the Jews lost all forms of civil government during the century in which Jesus lived. About 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, the Romans completely destroyed Jerusalem, the Temple, and many towns throughout the land of Israel. The Romans also forced many Jews out of their homeland and into exile.

Non-Christian sources of commentary also have regarded Genesis 49:10 as being Messianic. In the Talmud, for example, the word Shiloh is seen as a reference to the Messiah:

"R. Johanan said: For the sake of the Messiah. What is his [the Messiah's] name? - The School of R. Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh come."
- Babylonian Talmud, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter XI, as translated by H. Freedman.

The Talmud is a collection of Judaic writings that were compiled in written form beginning sometime after the first century of this era.

The Messiah would appear after the rebuilding of Jerusalem

The prophet Daniel gave a prophecy that indicates that the Messiah would appear sometime after a certain point in time. Daniel lived during a time about 2600 years ago when the Babylonians had conquered the Jewish homeland and forced many into exile.

The prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27 provided many insights about events that would happen after the fall of the Babylonian Empire, about 2,500 years ago. Among those insights was the detail that the Messiah would appear after the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem:

"Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. (Daniel 9:25, NIV)

Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC and was in ruins for most of Daniel's life. The prophecy revealed that the city would be rebuilt again, and that afterwards the Messiah would appear.

These details coincide with the arrival of Jesus as the Messiah about 2,000 years ago. By that time, the city had been rebuilt and resettled.

The Messiah would appear before the (Roman) destruction of Jerusalem

Whereas Daniel 9:25 said that the Messiah would arrive sometime after the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the next verse indicates that the arrival would take place sometime before the city would be destroyed again:

After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. (Daniel 9:26, NIV)

This, too, corresponds to the timing of Jesus' arrival as the Messiah about 2,000 years ago. About 40 years after Jesus was crucified, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. The destruction was so complete that some of the effects remain visible today.