How Jesus fulfils the prophets (Zechariah 8)

With a chapter never quoted in the NT, we see how Jesus fulfilled what God promised through the Prophets.


The hope Jesus proclaimed was deeply rooted in the promises of the prophets. Matthew keeps telling us that Jesus fulfilled the prophets, using phrases from Zechariah far more than we do today.

Many of us struggle to make sense of how the NT writers used the prophets. Read Zechariah in context, and it may not sound like predictions. For example, the blood of the covenant in Zechariah 9:11 seems to refer back to the Sinai covenant (Exodus 24:8), yet Jesus used the phrase for his Last Supper (Matthew 26:28).

Maybe our understanding of “context” is too narrow. You probably know to check a few verses either side of a quotation, so as not to take it out of context. In a limited sense, that’s true. But for Jesus and the New Testament writers, context was much broader — their place in the story of God.

When Jesus announced the good news of the kingdom, his context was the Jewish world that had not been a kingdom since the exile. Most of them lived in other countries, scattered like sheep without a shepherd. That’s how Zechariah had described them 500 years earlier (Zechariah 10:2; 13:7 etc), and it still described their context in Jesus’ day (Matthew 9:36; 10:6; 15:24).

Jesus fulfilled the prophets not merely by doing some particular thing they predicted. That happened, but it was far more: everything God promised to restore was finally fulfilled in his Anointed. That’s the scope of what Jesus fulfilled: All the promises of God find their Yes in him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

So, let’s take a chapter the NT writers never quoted. How is Zechariah 8 fulfilled in Christ?

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Rulers of the restored kingdom (Zechariah 4)

Two olive trees supporting the menorah? How does this relate to Jesus?

Read Zechariah 4.

Matthew promotes Jesus’ agenda — the kingdom of God — as the fulfilment of the promises God gave through the prophets, with numerous allusions to Zechariah. We’re looking at how Zechariah’s visions informed Jesus’ agenda.

When the kingdom fell apart and the people were exiled to Babylon, Zechariah delivered God’s call for the exiles to return (1:3), declaring that God would lead them home like a new exodus (2:6-12). He said they would see the twin signs of God’s leadership over them: Joshua the cleansed high priest in God’s house, and “the Branch” of David’s house who would reign as God’s anointed (3:8).

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Priest of the restored kingdom (Zechariah 3)

How does Zechariah’s story about a high priest in filthy rags relate to Jesus?

Read Zechariah 3.

The prophets inspired Jesus’ kingdom vision. After God’s nation disintegrated in the exile, prophets like Zechariah delivered God’s promise to restore his kingdom. He said that God had scattered them among the nations because of their unfaithfulness, and God would gather them as his kingdom again because of his covenant faithfulness (Zechariah 1–2).

The two markers of God’s kingship in Jerusalem were gone: the house of God (the palace for his throne), and the house of David (the anointed kingship representing his reign). Zechariah addresses these two problems in Chapters 3 and 4.

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Zechariah’s hope of kingdom restoration (Zechariah 1–2)

Prophets like Zechariah delivered God’s promise to restore his kingdom after the exile. What they said informed Jesus’ kingdom ministry.

Jesus was not the first to proclaim the kingdom of God. That was already Israel’s story when God anointed David to rule on earth, and when God established Israel as his nation at Sinai. It was the hope for the nations promised to Abraham. It was the covenant God made with all people through Noah. By design, humans exist as images of the heavenly sovereign in his earthly creation.

What was unique was Jesus’ vision of how the kingdom of heaven would be restored to the earth. There was a whole history of getting off-track in the generations of Adam, Noah, Israel, and David. Then it completely fell apart when Babylon took the nation into captivity, destroying the symbols of God’s kingship: the house of God (with the ark that represented his throne), and the house of David (the anointed kings who that represented his reign).

So, how did Jesus envision the restoration of God’s reign? In part, his kingdom vision was shaped by the promises God gave through the prophets, particularly Zechariah.

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David’s Lord (Matthew 22:41-46)

Understanding the Bible is all about understanding the relationships. Jesus shows us how with his puzzle about the people in Psalm 110:1.

My wife loves relationships movies. She’s not looking for action scenes, spy plots, or superheros bringing everybody to heel. She loves stories that explore how people relate.

I think that’s how Jesus heard the Bible. Academics can focus on the form and structure of the text or making theology systematic, but for him it was all about relationships.

Matthew 22 gives example after example where his interpretation was relational:

  1. God’s people live because I AM. Knowing Scripture means knowing God, his life-giving power (see on 22:29-32).
  2. Loving God and loving people — those relationships are the whole Bible (the Law and the Prophets) (see on 22:34-40).
  3. To understand a Psalm, explore the relationships between the people (22:43-45).

Now, I know this isn’t how we usually read Scripture. Jesus’ approach sounded just as foreign to the Pharisees as it does to us. Can we learn the relational hermeneutic Jesus used? In this post, we’ll take the third example (based on Psalm 110) as our tutorial.

Notice the question Jesus asks:

Continue reading “David’s Lord (Matthew 22:41-46)”

Loving God and people (Matthew 22:34-40)

What’s the most important thing God ever told us to do? The answer describes kingdom life, what the king intends for his community.

The fight is on!

Jesus is in one corner. Opposing him is a tag team of Israel’s leading fighters. They’ve stopped fighting each other to bring down the people’s champion. Three rounds:

  1. Pharisees lead the attack by testing his support for Caesar. Jesus sends them back in their corner: give Caesar the currency in his name, but he’s not the ultimate authority (22:15-22).
  2. Next, Sadducees take a swing at his resurrection hope, but Jesus finds their vulnerability. They failed to factor in God’s power, the I AM, the life-giving Being (22:23-33).
  3. Then an unnamed hand gathers reinforcements to bring down God’s anointed.

This fight is the final week of Jesus’ life. It’s building towards the final assault on God’s anointed. He’s been in this fight since he was born, when Herod gathered together all the ruling priests and scribes of the people to investigate this king of the Jews (2:4). Now the leaders are gathered against him by an unspecified hand (same verb, passive voice):

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The God who raises the dead (Matthew 22:31-32)

“I am the God of Abraham” proves the resurrection?

Like you, I want to understand Scripture better, so we can live it well. It matters, because we’re living in God’s story. One way to learn is to watch how Scripture handles Scripture (i.e. intertextuality informs hermeneutics).

For example, in Matthew 22:31 Jesus quotes this text to convince his opponents about the resurrection:
Exodus 3:6 I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.

Huh? How does that verse prove the resurrection? I might have gone for something like this:

Continue reading “The God who raises the dead (Matthew 22:31-32)”

Is Israel God’s kingdom today? (Matthew 21:40-46)

How does the nation of Israel fit into God’s plans today?

They were God’s chosen people in Old Testament times. Now gentiles (non-Jews) are included in God’s people, for the Jewish Messiah is God’s anointed ruler for the world. So, what about the Jews: do they still have a special place, a special future?

For 2000 years, Christians have disagreed over this question. Some say the church has replaced Israel as the people of God, treating Jews as now irrelevant … or worse. Anti-Semitism reached its peak under Hitler, in a country that claimed to be Christian.

The holocaust tipped public opinion in favour of re-establishing Israel as a nation. After 1800 years with no homeland (2500 under foreign rule), some viewed this return as the fulfilment of God’s promise through Ezekiel when they first went into exile:

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Tenants in God’s vineyard (Matthew 21:33-44)

Look through the window of Jesus’ stories, and you see the world framed as God’s kingdom:

Matthew 21 33“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.” (NIV)

The earth is the Lord’s. We don’t own it. We rent a space for a few years, but ownership remains with the one who lives forever. That’s our security, our meaning. It’s where we belong, our hope.

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How majestic! (Psalm 8)

Little voices make a world of difference.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1 ESV)

The Psalms proclaim heaven’s sovereignty over the earth. In effusive joy and struggling lament, they declare the reality of God’s reign over us all.

The more we recognize God’s regal authority, the more it develops us. Witness the word of praise expanding as ripples on a pond:

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Hosanna: the king who saves his realm (Matthew 21:6-9)

The Palm Sunday crowd declared the gospel: heaven and earth reconciled in “the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Jesus’ triumphal entry was the greatest recognition Jerusalem ever gave its king.

Matthew has been proclaiming Jesus’ kingship since the beginning: the son of David (1:1), born into their captivity (1:17), to save his people from their disobedience (1:21). Jesus has been announcing the good news of the kingdom and using his authority to release his people from their sufferings. Eventually his followers realized who was king (16:16), and others began to recognize him as the son of David (20:30-31).

A growing crowd streams into the capital from the east, accompanying the one they proclaim as the son of David, returning to reign in Jerusalem. They lay their garments on the road to honour their king, cutting branches to mark the festal celebration.

What they say is the most astounding declaration of the gospel. Matthew summarizes their joyful shouts with three statements that declare the reconciliation of heaven and earth in him:

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The king who comes in peace (Matthew 21:1-9)

God’s king has a different authority to what we’ve known.

The king of peace is so different. When the disciples first recognized Jesus as God’s anointed, he told them to keep it quiet (16:16-20). Now others have had their eyes opened to the son of David, and they cannot be silenced (20:30-34). This growing crowd forms a festal procession, celebrating the return of the son of David to the capital in the name of the Lord (21:9).

Yet, this son of David does not look like the kings who came before him. Solomon had 12,000 horses and 1,400 chariots to defend his kingdom (2 Chronicles 1:14). Jesus doesn’t even have a donkey. If he’s to be carried into Jerusalem, he must borrow a pack-animal for this occasion — the return of the king to Jerusalem after 600 years.

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When did God wear armour? (Ephesians 6:11)

Armour of God? When did he wear it?

The armour of God: something God provides for us, or something God himself wears?

Isaiah 59:17 describes the Lord putting it on:
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head.

When did God put armour on? Understanding how God used it might help us to use it too.

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Why have you forsaken me?

If you’ve known rejection, you’ll appreciate this.

If you’ve felt abandoned, discarded by family and friends, you may understand this:

Mark 15 34 At three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachdthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

What was Jesus saying? Continue reading “Why have you forsaken me?”

Are the Psalms messianic?

Do the Psalms tell us about Jesus? Are these verses about Christ?

Psalm 22 1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? … 16 They have pierced my hands and feet.

Psalms 118 22 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

The New Testament writers thought so. So did the church fathers. Were they right? Or were they bending texts to fit their beliefs? What did David intend? Does authorial intent define the meaning? Or is meaning in the ear of the hearer, whatever the reader wants it to mean?

When the church fathers used the Psalms this way, the Jewish leaders were mortified. They pointed out that no one read the Psalms like this until after Jesus died, so the Christians were merely imposing their own meaning on Jewish literature.

Should we be seeing the Messiah in the Psalms? Everywhere? Nowhere? In a few cases? What do you think?

Continue reading “Are the Psalms messianic?”

Questions take you deeper (Ephesians 2)

Here’s an example of how asking good questions leads to a richer appreciation of what God is doing.

When you read Scripture, what are you looking for? It’s not enough to approach the Bible like a shopping trip, to pick up some things that appeal to you. The Bible changes us. It’s the revelation of the God who is reshaping us into community in his image.

Questions help open us to that transformation, beyond the way we currently think and live. Rich communal understanding and life grows from asking good questions together.

An example from a recent post. Ephesians 2:1 (NIV) says, As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. We asked, “Who is the you?” The tendency is to assume it’s me, because our culture is individualistic. But you is plural, so perhaps it’s us? But two verses later, the writer switches from you to us. Turns out he’s using we to mean his own people (fellow Jews), and addressing people of other nations (gentiles) as you.

That leads to another question. What were the transgressions and sins of the gentiles? The sins of the Jewish nation could be any violations of the law God gave them at Sinai, but how were gentiles disobedient to God?

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Why parables? Jesus’ answer

In the previous post, I suggested two reasons Jesus used parables instead of plain talk. (a) He was inspiring imagination for how life could be. (b) He was announcing his kingship, without making the usual power claims.

When Jesus was asked why he spoke with cryptic stories, he quoted Isaiah’s frustration with people hearing but never getting the message, seeing but never comprehending (Isaiah 6:9-10 in Matthew 13:11-17).

To understand why Jesus reapplied Isaiah’s situation to his own, we need to identify what they shared in common. As usual, it’s about God’s kingship.

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Humility (Exodus 10:3)

What is it, and why does it matter?

What is humility? C. S. Lewis said it’s not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. But what does the Bible say about humility? How would you find out?

You could use a concordance, or run a search at BibleGateway. You’d find 60 – 100 verses (depending on your version). But there’s more to it than sticking all those verses together as a collage of humility. There’s a development in the theme as the Bible’s story unfolds. When Jesus arrives on the scene as God’s anointed Messiah, King of the kingdom, he’s such a contrast to earth’s power-grabbing rulers. God-in-a-manger is humility we’d never known. Continue reading “Humility (Exodus 10:3)”