“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David…” –Romans 1:1-3a
Jesus is absolutely unique among those considered to be founders of the world’s great religions. He is unique in His claims, unique in His miracles, unique in His teachings, unique in His death, unique in His resurrection from the dead, unique in His ascension and unique in His bestowal of the Holy Spirit. But at this time of the year, Christians celebrate another thing that is unique to Christ: the circumstances of His birth. And among the wonders of His birth are the prophecies that heralded His coming hundreds of years beforehand, prophecies that He did not invent and of circumstances over which He could not have had any control. Let us review some of these prophecies.
The Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of One who would be the savior of Israel and of the world. The Jews were reading these prophecies long before Jesus was born, as we know from historical sources and from actual copies of the Scriptures that date from well before His birth (such as the Dead Sea scrolls). The prophecies include:
1) The Lineage of the Messiah – He would be a descendant of Shem, son of Noah (Genesis 9:24-27), of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 22:18 – “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”), of Issac Genesis 21:12), of Jacob Genesis 28:14), of Judah (49:10), and of David (2 Samuel 7 where David is promised an eternal dynasty through his descendants).
2) The Circumstances of His Family – He would be born of descendants of David after they had been reduced to very humble circumstances: powerless and poor. He is called the “branch” or “shoot” from the “root of Jesse (David’s father)” (Isaiah 11:1; see also 4:2; 53:2; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:14-15). A shoot of branch coming from the root means that the great tree, symbolizing power and wealth, of David’s lineage, has been reduced to a stump. This was certainly the case by the time Jesus was born.
3) The Timing of His Birth – He would have to be born before the lineage of David was lost, which it was, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. (Genesis 49:10 and the other prophecies cited in #2, above) Today, no Jewish person can reliably trace their ancestry to David. But an even more specific prophecy of the timing of His coming is found in Daniel 9:24-27. Here, we find that the Messiah will appear 483 years after a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. This decree was given by the Persian king, Artaxerxes in 457 AD (Ezra 7). 483 years later, in 26 AD, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river by John who declared him to be the Messiah. Jesus had to be born in time to fulfill this prophecy. There is much more in this prophecy that Jesus fulfilled, having to do with His ministry, death and subsequent events. By the way, He was baptized at age 30, the age at which a priest could begin serving in the temple.
4) The Place He Would Be Born – He would be born in Bethlehem, of Judea (Micah 5:2). How Jesus came to be born there is very remarkable, as recorded by the Gospel writer and able historian, Luke. If it had not been for the government census and the threat of small-town gossip over why Mary’s pregnancy was so far along that early in their marriage, Jesus would have been born in Nazareth. Matthew also tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
5) That He Would be a Galilean and Known as “The Nazarene” – Isaiah 9:1-2 tells us that the Messiah would come out of “Galilee of the Gentiles”. Recall the prophecies cited above in # 2 that His name would be “The Branch”. “Nazareth” comes from the same Hebrew root as the word for “Branch”. The people called Him, “Jesus of Nazareth”, or simply “the Nazarene” thus fulfilling these prophecies, for though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He was raised in Nazareth.
6) That He Would be Born of a Virgin – This is taught by Genesis 3:15, in that the One who would crush the Serpent would be of the seed of the woman, terminology directly implying a virgin birth. This is reinforced by the well-known passage, Isaiah 7:14 (see also Jeremiah 31:22), where the house of David is promised a virgin birth as a sign. 700 years later, Mary and Joseph, of the house of David, claimed to have received that sign. There is no record among the Jews, before or since, of one whose mother claimed to be a virgin at his birth.
Space forbids citing a number of other remarkable prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus’ birth, but it is clear that these were circumstances over which Jesus had absolutely no control and thus their fulfillment provides abundant evidence that Jesus really is the Messiah, the Savior of the world! Let us therefore boldly share the truth of Jesus with our neighbors, family, friends and even strangers. He came to save them as well as us!