The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: Christ in ProphecyWe all know that the New Testament speaks of Christ as the fulfilment of prophecy, and even indicate texts of Scripture fulfilled in his life, death and resurrection, and in his gifts to the Church. St Luke tells us that after his resurrection Jesus told the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; “’O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning from Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27). One naturally asks in what sense such texts are fulfilled in Christ. This is an old question. Already in the fourth century some Scripture scholars were plainly saying that we should make distinctions in the subject with regard to what the original biblical author in the Old Testament intended and how this was understood of Christ in the New.
The designation “Christ” can mean a number of realities. If taken in its strict sense as “Anointed One”, the Messiah son of David, then the quest would be the Messianic expectations of the Old Testament, or in Judaism. With this we must begin with David himself and his reign, about 1000 BC, to whom God solemnly promised that a son of his would always sit on his throne. The Davidic dynasty gave stability to the state of Judah, but came to an end with the destruction of the state, of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon in 586 BC. Expectation of the return of a son of David could only begin with this ending of the dynasty. With the restoration under Persian rule there was hope, and a chance, that this would happen, but it was not to be. From a religious, and in part political, point of view, most of the Davidic kings were a disappointment and there was no great desire for a restoration. For centuries there emerged what may be called a non-Davidic messianism, the expectation of a glorious future from God without mention of a Davidic king. Nonetheless, the divine promise to David and his house remained, and promises of a future Davidic king are to be found in the writings of the prophets Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:15-16) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:24-25). Expectation of a personal Messiah, Son of David, became explicit again the Roman conquest of Palestine in 63 BC. Down through the ages Israel was reflecting on earlier biblical texts and reinterpreting them in the light of a more developed thought. Thus the serpent of the Paradise account came to be regarded as Satan, and sin and death seen as introduced through him. Outside the texts relating to the Messiah son of David proper there were others that could now be seen as referring to the future Messiah, for instance the final victory of the seed of the woman (of Paradise) over the serpent, promises made concerning Judah by Jacob or of a star to arise out of Jacob by Balaam. There were others regarding patient sufferers, forsaken by friends, and a host of texts that could be used to foreshadow or portray the work of Jesus. The Old Testament was not a unity. It had diversity, with updated texts of earlier prophecies. But it could be regarded as a unity since, despite its diversity, the Holy Spirit was active in its composition. It was regarded as the word of God. While Jesus himself could point out that not everything within it held for the new age (“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times … I, however, say to you …”), in God’s plan it prepared for the coming of God’s final word in Jesus his Son. It therefore spoke of him when its texts were fulfilled in his person or his works. God’s plan at work in the Hebrew Scriptures and in Jesus give a unity to the whole Old Testament and the early Church.