Commentary

 

Prophecies About Jesus      

By Rev. George McCurdy

By Meister des Ludwig-Psalters [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Currently at Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

For Christians, Christmas time is one of the most sacred, most joyous celebrations of the year. What about for people who are thinking about it, but who aren't sure about the whole "reason for the season"? What do we really know about what happened in Judea, 2000 years ago?

We're going to try to approach this topic from a neutral standpoint, and see where that leads us.

It's well-established that Jesus existed. He was physically, historically real. There is voluminous evidence from Christian sources, of course. Jesus Christ was also mentioned in non-Christian historical documents that have survived from that period. He's referred to twice by Josephus, the Jewish historian, in his work "Antiquities of the Jews" published in 93-94 AD. Tacitus, the Roman historian, writing in around 116 AD, also refers to "Christus" being put to death by the Romans under Pontius Pilate.

Was Jesus special? Even skeptics would need to wonder why and how this man from a small village in Galilee could launch a religion which would become the biggest, most influential one for at least the next two millennia of human history.

One of the intriguing things about Jesus is that his birth and life seem to have fulfilled prophecies from the Old Testament, which date back to the time of Moses - at least 1500 years BC, and to far older stories in an oral tradition. Those prophecies existed in texts written long before the Christian Era started.

What were some of those prophecies? There are many of them! Swedenborg lists some here, Doctrine of the Lord 6. In this article, we're just going to focus on a few of them.

In this very early prophecy, it's indicated that the Messiah would be born as the son of a woman:

"And Jehovah God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life, and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Genesis 3:14-15. This is confirmed in the story in Matthew 1:20.

In Micah, much later in the Bible, we read that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, in Judea:

"But thou, Beth-lehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting."

Micah 5:2. This is confirmed in the story in Matthew 2:1, and Luke 2:4-6.

In Isaiah, we read that the Messiah would be born to a virgin:

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14. This is confirmed in the story in Matthew 1:22-23, and in Luke 1:26-31.

Lineage was an important factor, too. At least 5 forefathers of the promised Savior are named. First, he was prophesied to come from the line of Abraham, the progenitor of many of the peoples of the modern Middle East, including the Jews, the Arabs, the Lebanese, the Druze, and others. Genesis 12:3, Genesis 22:18. This prophecy is confirmed in Matthew 1:1, and Romans 9:5.

In the next generation, prophecy stated that the Savior would be descended from the line of Isaac, one of Abraham's two sons. See Genesis 17:19, Genesis 21:12. This is confirmed in Luke 3:34.

For the third generation, the Word states that the Messiah would be a descendant of Jacob. It's prophesied in Numbers 24:17, and confirmed in Matthew 1:2.

For the fourth generation, attention focuses on the tribe of Judah, who was one of the twelve sons of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel). See Genesis 49:10, and then Luke 3:33, and Hebrews 7:14.

Many generations later, in the second book of Samuel, and again in Isaiah, there are prophecies that the Messiah would be heir to King David's throne. Read 2_Samuel 7:12-13, and Isaiah 9:7. Then see Luke 1:32-33, and Romans 1:3.

There are many more prophecies, and we will look at more of them in a future article. But, to summarize these ones that we've just listed, what would Old Testament readers in the time of Caesar Augustus be expecting?

In Bethlehem, a virgin would bear a son. He would be descended from Abraham, through the line of Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David.

That's the way the story runs, in the Gospels.

It's clear that the Old Testament wasn't altered to suit the "facts on the ground". The prophecies are already there in pre-Christian scrolls. That leaves two possibilities:

1) Scenario A: The New Testament could have been written to twist the facts to match the old prophecies. Faithful Jews were awaiting the Messiah; they would have wanted to find matching stories. In this scenario, Jesus could have been just a regular man, but a standout leader and teacher and healer. He was so inspiring that his apostles endured hardship and death to spread what became a global religion. The stories about him were exaggerated or modified to help match the prophecies.

2) Scenario B: The Old Testament text contains deep inner meaning, and its prophecies were actually prophetic and true. The facts of Jesus' birth and life and ministry actually did match and fulfull the prophecies. In this scenario, Jesus was truly a miracle baby.

Which scenario is right? In both, there's a recognition that the teachings of Jesus contained wisdom, and that there is great value in them. In New Christian thought, the choice is for Scenario B -- that Jesus really was the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, or Savior.

This of course requires some level of belief in miracles - prophecy, fulfillment, the virgin birth, angels bearing tidings, healings, feeding the multitudes. Can miracles really happen? Is it scientifically possible? Maybe they can... maybe as science advances, we will begin to understand those boundaries better. At some level, don't most of us believe in miracles -- in the miracle of the very existence of the universe, and of living organisms that can reproduce, and of human life, and of love?

How to end this article? The whole subject of miracles needs more thought. And, here it is, December 22, and... instead of getting more analytical, I find that right now I just want to "be" in the holy days of Christmas.

If you're feeling skeptical, have a look at Arcana Coelestia 2568, Arcana Coelestia 2588. They offer an interesting perspective!

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One source for this article was "100 Prophecies Fulfilled by Jesus: Messianic Prophecies Made Before the Birth of Christ", by Rose Publishing.

From Swedenborg's Works

 

Arcana Coelestia #2568

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)      

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2568. It was stated above in this chapter that doctrine would be brought to ruin if the rational were consulted, 2516, 2538, and that it was not consulted, 2519, 2531; but here it is said that the doctrine of faith was enriched with both rational and natural goods and truths. At first glance these statements seem to express two conflicting and contrary ideas, but they do not in fact do so. It has been told how it was with the Lord, now it must be told how it is with man.

[2] With man it is one thing for him to regard the doctrine of faith from rational ideas but quite another to regard rational ideas from the doctrine of faith. Regarding the doctrine of faith from rational ideas occurs when someone does not believe in the Word, that is, in doctrine drawn from it, until he is persuaded on rational grounds that the thing is so. But regarding rational ideas from the doctrine of faith occurs when someone first of all believes in the Word or doctrine drawn from it and then confirms the same by rational ideas. The first approach is an inversion of order and leads to belief in nothing, whereas the second is genuine order and leads to greater belief. It is the first that is expressed by 'you will die on account of the woman', meaning that the doctrine of faith would be brought to ruin if the rational were consulted, 2516, 2538, but the second by 'Abimelech gave flocks and herds, and men servants and women servants', meaning that the doctrine of faith was enriched with rational and natural goods and truths.

[3] These matters receive considerable treatment in the Word in its internal sense, especially when Asshur and Egypt are referred to, the reason being that when the doctrine of faith is regarded from rational ideas, that is, when someone does not believe until he is persuaded on rational grounds that the thing is so, it is not only in that case brought to ruin but also whatever is contained within it is denied. But when rational ideas are regarded from the doctrine of faith, that is, when he believes the Word and after that confirms the same things by means of rational ideas, doctrine is in that case living and whatever is contained within it is regarded affirmatively.

[4] There are therefore two basic attitudes of mind, the first leading to utter stupidity and insanity, the second to perfect intelligence and wisdom. The first occurs when someone denies everything, that is, says in his heart that he is unable to believe those things until he is convinced by things which he can grasp in his mind and perceive with his senses. This is an attitude which leads to utter stupidity and insanity and must be termed the negative attitude. The second occurs when someone regards affirmatively the things which comprise doctrine drawn from the Word, that is, when he thinks within himself and believes that those things are true because the Lord has spoken them. This is an attitude that leads to perfect intelligence and wisdom, and must be termed the affirmative attitude.

[5] The more those who think from the negative attitude consult rational ideas and the more they consult factual knowledge and the more they consult philosophical concepts, the more they pitch themselves headlong into darkness, till at length they deny everything. The reasons for this are that nobody is able from things that are lower to grasp with his mind those that are higher, that is, from those that are lower to grasp those that are spiritual and celestial, still less those that are Divine, since these go above and beyond his entire understanding. And what is more, when this is the case everything is regarded from a basically negative attitude of mind. On the other hand, however, people who think from the affirmative attitude are able to confirm themselves by whatever rational ideas, and by whatever factual knowledge, indeed by any philosophical concepts, which they are able in any way to make use of, for to them all these matters are confirmatory and enable them to have a fuller idea of the matter.

[6] In addition there are those who are in doubt before they deny, and there are those who are in doubt before they accept affirmatively. Those in doubt before denying are people who are disposed towards a life of evil; and when carried away by that life, then insofar as they think about those matters they deny them. Those however in doubt before accepting affirmatively are people who are disposed towards a life of good; and when they allow themselves to be turned to that life by the Lord, then insofar as they think about those matters they accept them affirmatively. Since this subject is taken further in the verses that follow this, let them in the Lord's Divine mercy be illustrated more fully at that point; see 2588.

(References: Genesis 20:14)

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From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 2588, 2831, 3024, 3394, 6047, 9300

Heaven and Hell 356

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 51

Other New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:

God's Ways


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Prophecies About Jesus


Glossary of Terms Used by Emanuel Swedenborg
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After the crucifixion Jesus appeared to His disciples, offering reassurance of His continued presence and commissioning them to love and follow Him.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Who Is Jesus?
Jesus’ life unfolded according a Divine plan known only to Him. People wrestled with who He was. He made bold claims and challenged religious leaders. How do we see Jesus? In what ways does He challenge us?
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17


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