Lots of people have claimed to be the Messiah, or have been claimed to be the Messiah. Why should we think Jesus is the real one? Christians say you can tell that Jesus really is who he says he is because he fulfilled all those messianic prophecies from the Old Testament. One problem with that idea is the fact that he didn’t.
All the prophecies that Jesus supposedly fulfilled either aren’t accurate descriptions of Jesus, or are out-of-context quotes of passages that have nothing to do with Jesus or the Messiah, or weren’t originally written as prophecies at all, or can’t even be found in the Old Testament.
Prophecies Jesus allegedly fulfilled
The New Testament has quite a few passages that quote the Old Testament while talking about Jesus, but don’t actually have anything to do with what the gospels say Jesus did. The passages quoted in those parts are clearly not messianic prophecies, so I’m not going to bother listing all of those. But I will look at the things that actually look like they could potentially be fulfilled messianic prophecies, and show why they’re not.
Not in the Old Testament
These “predictions” mentioned in the New Testament don’t actually appear in the Old Testament at all. It looks like the gospel writers just made them up.
The gospel of Matthew claims that the prophets said the Messiah would be called a Nazarene, but it doesn’t say that anywhere in the Old Testament. (Maybe the author was thinking of the part where it says somebody will be a Nazirite… which is not the same thing as a Nazarene, and was not said by the prophets, and was clearly about somebody else.)
Jesus told his disciples that everything that was written by the prophets about him (also in the books of the law and the Psalms) was about to be fulfilled: He would be handed over to the Gentiles to be tormented and killed, and then come back to life on the third day, and forgiveness through repentance would be preached everywhere in his name. Paul said the prophets predicted something like that as well. None of that is actually in the Old Testament, though.
The gospel of John says people knew that when the Messiah came, no one would know where he was from, and that he definitely wouldn’t come from Galilee. Not only do the prophets not actually say that, but even if they did, that would mean Jesus didn’t qualify.
Jesus claimed that Judas had to be doomed to destruction so the scriptures would be fulfilled, but there doesn’t seem to be anything about that in the Old Testament scriptures.
Peter claims that all the prophets said that anyone can get their sins forgiven by believing in Jesus. Really, all of them? I’m not sure I can find even one Old Testament prophet saying that.
Paul attempts to quote a passage about a deliverer coming from Zion and changing Israel’s behavior, which Paul seems to think is about Jesus enabling both Jews and Gentiles to be saved, or something. But that passage doesn’t even appear in the Old Testament at all. The closest thing I can find is Isaiah talking about a redeemer coming to Zion in response to Israel’s behavior changing.
The book of Acts says David talked about the kings of the earth conspiring against God and his anointed one, and it interprets that as a prediction about the various people who were involved in getting Jesus killed. But if this was indeed David talking about God’s anointed one in the quoted psalm, I would think he was just talking about himself. There’s nothing about the quoted passage that makes it seem like it’s a prediction about somebody else.
And if it is an attempt to predict what happened to Jesus, it’s wrong. None of the people involved in the supposed fulfillment were kings, not even Herod (Antipas). Also, whoever that psalm was about seems to be awfully violent and oppressive. Doesn’t really sound like Jesus, does it?
The New Testament also says that by appointing Jesus to his role, God fulfilled another passage in that same psalm which mentioned God declaring someone to be his son now. But again, the passage in Psalms sounds like it’s just the psalmist talking about himself. He says “He said to me”, not “He will say to somebody else who will be born a thousand years from now”.
Peter (slightly mis-)quoted a psalm where David was obviously talking about himself and how he was sure that God would always save his life. But since David did eventually die of old age, Peter concluded that he must have actually been talking about Jesus, and how he would only die temporarily. A more plausible conclusion would be that David was wrong, or that he just meant God wouldn’t let his enemies kill him.
In support of the idea that that psalm applied to Jesus, Paul offered what appears to be an attempt to quote a verse from Isaiah, maybe, which mentioned God giving someone the blessings promised to David. But the original passage in Isaiah is about God offering things to whoever needs them, not to anyone special in particular.
The gospel of John says the way the soldiers who crucified Jesus took his clothes for themselves happened in order to fulfill the scriptures. But the quoted passage is from Psalms, and isn’t actually a prediction at all, just David describing his own current situation.
Some people also claim that the same psalm includes a prediction of how Jesus was mocked, though the mockers really aren’t saying the same thing at all. And they say it contains a prediction of Jesus’s hands and feet being pierced when he was crucified, but that’s a mistranslation. It doesn’t even say “pierce” in the Hebrew Bible, but that’s how the early Christians happened to interpret it at one point when they made a translation of a translation of that psalm. And since that came out looking so much like a prediction of Jesus, Christians have always opted to translate it that way since then.
It says the fact that they didn’t break Jesus’s legs after he died was to fulfill the scripture that says not one of his bones will be broken. But the passage in Psalms that says that isn’t a prediction about a specific person. It’s just David saying what he thinks happens to righteous people in general.
Jesus’s preferred explanation for his own bad reputation at the time was that it was the fulfillment of a prophecy: “They hated me without reason.” He said that was written in the Jewish law, but that sentence doesn’t actually appear anywhere in the Old Testament. There are a couple of psalms where David mentions people hating him without reason, though. But those aren’t written in the law, nor are they prophecies. David is just describing his own current situation. So no, there was no prophecy for Jesus to fulfill by being unpopular. He was just unpopular.
The book of Hebrews quotes (or probably misquotes) a passage from Psalms where David claims he wants to do God’s will, but also that God isn’t interested in all those sacrifices he commanded his people to make. But Hebrews claims that this is something Jesus said, and oddly doesn’t even mention that it’s from the Old Testament. If Jesus did say that, it obviously wasn’t a prophecy when he said it. And when David said it, it wasn’t a prophecy either. He was just talking about himself, as usual.
Jesus said Judas’s betrayal was a fulfillment of what the scriptures said about the one who shared someone’s bread turning against him. But again, the passage he’s quoting out of context here is from Psalms, and it’s not a prediction about someone in the future, but David describing his own current situation.
The book of Hebrews quotes a badly written psalm that can’t decide who it’s addressed to, which states that God or a king or whoever is righteous and has been anointed by God and his throne will last forever. Hebrews claims that that passage is about “the Son”, but whoever it’s about, it doesn’t appear to be a prediction (besides the part about the throne lasting forever, which is not something that has been or can be confirmed to be true). If it’s about a king, it’s about the one who was king at the time.
The gospel of John suggests that Jesus’s temple tantrum was a fulfillment of a scripture about being consumed by zeal for God’s house. Paul thinks that passage has something to do with Jesus too. But once again, the quoted passage from Psalms is just David describing his own current situation. (John misquotes it to make it sound more like a prediction.)
It says Jesus said he was thirsty in order to give people an opportunity to fulfill the scriptures by giving him vinegar to drink. The quoted passage, of course, is from Psalms, and isn’t a prediction at all, just David describing his own current situation. (Notice how different David’s attitude toward his enemies is from Jesus’s. Shouldn’t they be the same, if David is really talking about Jesus?)
The gospel of Matthew claims that by speaking in parables, Jesus fulfilled the words of a prophet. The quoted passage is from Psalms, and isn’t actually a prediction at all, just the psalmist announcing that he’s going to tell a parable.
There’s a psalm that briefly mentions a “son of man” by God’s right hand, but it doesn’t actually predict anything or give any additional information about this man, so there’s not really any reason to think that’s referring to either the Messiah or Jesus.
The gospels claim that when Isaiah mentioned someone saying to prepare the way for the Lord, he was predicting John the Baptist preparing people for Jesus. Again, this doesn’t look like it was even meant to be a prediction. And if it was, it’s an excessively vague one that could have just as well meant a lot of other things. (Especially since Isaiah probably didn’t even say the one calling would be in the wilderness. It looks like the gospels may have misinterpreted Isaiah as saying that, when he actually meant the way should be prepared in the wilderness.)
A verse in Isaiah about being beaten and spat at has been claimed to be fulfilled when Jesus was arrested, even though it’s just Isaiah talking about himself, and even though it really doesn’t have that much in common with what the gospels say happened to Jesus.
The gospel of Luke says Jesus read a passage from Isaiah and claimed to have “fulfilled” it, even though it was just Isaiah talking about what God had told him to do, not predicting what somebody else would do. Jesus also throws in a line about healing the blind, which isn’t actually in that passage, which is too bad because that was the main thing that made it sound like it could be about Jesus.
Matthew claims that by killing lots of babies in an attempt to kill Jesus, Herod fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy about “Rachel weeping for her children“. Looking at that Old Testament verse in context, it doesn’t seem to be a prediction at all. It’s just a description of how things already were, and the actual prediction comes after that. The prediction was that the children would come back, which has no fulfillment in the gospel story. It also sounds like Jeremiah was talking about the descendants of Jacob1 in general seeming to be doomed,2 not about somebody’s actual children dying. And that alleged slaughter3 happened in Bethlehem, not Ramah.
Matthew also gives a mangled attempt at a quote that he thinks is from Jeremiah, which he claims was fulfilled when Judas gave the 30 pieces of silver back to the priests and they bought a potter’s field with it. Jeremiah did mention buying a field, but not from a potter or for 30 pieces of silver. Perhaps what Matthew was trying to quote was Zechariah’s confused shepherding story, where he gets paid 30 pieces of silver for his work, and then “throws it to the potter”. Either way, the prophets are just describing their own actions here, not predicting what a group of people would do in the future. And neither of the prophets’ stories really matches the gospel account very well.
Jesus living in Egypt as a child is supposed to have fulfilled a “prophecy” about God calling his son out of Egypt. If you look at the actual verse in Hosea, you’ll find that it’s not a prophecy at all. It’s God talking about something that happened in the past. And when he mentions “his son”, he’s referring to Israel, and when he mentions calling him, he’s talking about calling idolators to repent. When it’s not being quoted out of context, it’s obvious that this passage has nothing to do with Jesus.
Not about the Messiah
Often if you look at the context of the Old Testament passage the New Testament is quoting and claiming corresponds to what’s happening with Jesus, you’ll find that the original passage is clearly talking about something completely different, and has nothing to do with Jesus.
(Those passages usually don’t have anything to do with the Messiah, either. A lot of the things Christians associate with the Messiah, and that they think are predicted in the Old Testament, aren’t actually part of the original Jewish concept of the Messiah at all. The Messiah being a virgin-born miracle-working divine being who sacrifices himself and resurrects so that people all over the world can overcome their state of sin and be “saved” is entirely a Christian invention.)
Some people claim that when God said the offspring of the woman and of the serpent would be enemies and would injure each other, he was actually talking about Jesus suffering and defeating Satan, which is a huge stretch. Humans and snakes can be considered enemies in general, so there’s no reason to think the offspring of the woman means any specific person. If it was, it could be anybody. And Satan isn’t a descendant of a snake, is he?
In the book of Acts, Peter quotes Moses telling his people that God will send them another prophet like him, and telling them they need to listen to that prophet. Peter seems to think that was about the Messiah, but it could just as easily be about any prophet of God.
Peter also quotes a psalm where David states that God wouldn’t let him die, then he points out that David did die, and then he somehow concludes that what David said about himself was actually a true prediction about the resurrection of the Messiah.
Paul also mentions that “prediction” from Psalms, and he thinks that by giving that blessing that he promised to David to Jesus instead, God was fulfilling a prophecy from Isaiah. But the actual passage in Isaiah he’s quoting isn’t addressed to Jesus. It’s addressed to anyone who needs what God has to offer.
Some people interpret it as a messianic prophecy when God refers to a son of David as his own son, and tells David that he’ll establish that son’s kingdom forever, that the son will build a house for God, and that he’ll be flogged by human hands. But that’s obviously about David’s actual son, Solomon, who built God’s first temple. Also, it says this son will be punished when he does wrong, so it can’t be about Jesus if Jesus never did anything wrong.
Peter quotes another psalm that says something about a rejected stone becoming a cornerstone. Okay? What does that have to do with the Messiah or Jesus? Peter asserts that that’s what it’s about, but there’s absolutely no reason anyone who didn’t have that preconceived idea would get anything like that out of the original verse.
The New Testament quotes David telling what God said to “my lord” as if God was talking to the Messiah or Jesus, including that he would be a priest forever like Melchizedek. But David never made it clear at all who he was referring to. (And the godlike properties the book of Hebrews attributes to Melchizedek have no basis in the Old Testament.)
Matthew claims that Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy about a virgin giving birth to a son, but that’s clearly not actually about Jesus, for a bunch of reasons. First of all, it’s a mistranslation. Isaiah didn’t actually say anything about a virgin giving birth, just a young woman, so that could be about anybody.4 Isaiah specified what this son’s name would be, and it wasn’t Jesus. Jesus is supposed to be God, so he should have had a perfect sense of morality from the beginning, unlike the child Isaiah was talking about. And the point of what Isaiah said was to give an idea of how soon the kingdom of Israel would end, so it would make no sense for him to be referring to someone who wouldn’t even be born till hundreds of years after Israel was conquered.
The gospel of John claims that when Isaiah mentioned God preventing people from listening to him and repenting, he was talking about people who heard Jesus and didn’t believe him. But of course, that passage doesn’t say anything about Jesus or the Messiah or the future.
John also claims that another verse from Isaiah is about the same thing, the verse that asks who has believed a message and had God’s arm revealed to them. That verse in Isaiah is actually the beginning of a chapter that Jesus claimed was about him, and it’s saying he’s the one who has believed. So apparently that was not a rhetorical question suggesting that the answer is no one, so it has nothing to do with any later event where nobody believes a message.
Daniel has a passage about God permanently giving power over the whole world to “one like a son of man“, and maybe even letting everyone worship that guy. If you’re used to hearing Jesus call himself “Son of Man”, you might assume this is about him. But judging by what it says just a few verses later, it sounds like the Jews are the ones being given the world, and it clarifies that God is the one being worshipped.
Daniel gives a vague estimate of long it would be before the Anointed One (which is what the word “Messiah” means) would be put to death and would put an end to sacrifice. This can be interpreted as pointing roughly to Jesus’s time, and Christians believe the death of Jesus made sacrifice rituals no longer necessary. But despite those particular details matching fairly well, this is not a prophecy about Jesus, or at least not a true one. This prophecy is about someone who would set up an abomination in the temple and lead people to destroy Jerusalem.
The gospel of John quotes part of a verse from Zechariah about “the one they have pierced”, and claims that this was fulfilled when a soldier stabbed Jesus’s dead body with a spear. But I don’t see anything in the chapter that’s from that indicates that it has anything to do with the Messiah. What I do see there is a prediction that everyone in Jerusalem would be very upset that the one who was pierced had died. Did that ever happen with Jesus?
The gospels misquote Malachi, mentioning a messenger sent by God to prepare the way for someone else. Malachi actually said the messenger was to prepare the way for God, and didn’t say anything about a man coming. Either way, this description is so vague, there’s no good reason to think it’s about John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus.
Malachi said God was going to “send the prophet Elijah”, which Jesus claims also meant John the Baptist, though John the Baptist disagreed. Jesus said everything that was written about this “Elijah” had happened to him, despite the fact that the prophecy about Elijah didn’t actually say anything about what would happen to him, and really doesn’t have any resemblance to anything that happened in John’s life at all.
Not true of Jesus
Some people call it a fulfillment of prophecy when the New Testament quotes the Old and asserts that what it says is true of Jesus, when the New Testament writers clearly have absolutely no reason to think it is true of Jesus other than the fact that they read an Old Testament passage that they thought must be about him. So this is basically just the Old Testament passages being taken as somehow being the fulfillment of themselves. These are obviously not actual cases of fulfilled prophecy.
And when the predicted events are included in the actual story, and not just in a statement that a prophecy was fulfilled, that’s not much better. The gospel writers, who were convinced that Jesus had to have fulfilled a bunch of prophecies, very likely wrote stories about him based on the Old Testament prophecies, rather than based on any actual knowledge of what Jesus did. So if Jesus’s life appears to match things the Old Testament says, that’s probably why. That said, I’m going to mostly ignore that fact, and show that no prophecy fulfillment has taken place even if you assume the gospel stories are true.
Paul seems to think that when God told Abraham he would bless all nations through him, he was talking about Gentiles who would believe in Jesus and be saved. The Old Testament doesn’t actually say it was about anything like that, though. And according to the gospels, Jesus never intended to save Gentiles at all.
Jesus is claimed to have fulfilled prophecies from Isaiah, Micah, and Zechariah about a king of the Jews or a ruler of Israel, who would reign on David’s throne. This is what the Messiah is supposed to be, and this is what Christians claim Jesus was. But Jesus actively refused to be king of the Jews, and the Jews didn’t consider him their king either. His “kingdom” was something else.5
Jesus isn’t even qualified to be the king of the Jews. If he was even a descendant of David at all, he was a descendant of Jehoiachin (AKA Jeconiah), whose descendants the prophet Jeremiah said could never rule on David’s throne again.
Matthew made sure to write his story in a way that would “fulfill” what he thought Zechariah had predicted about how this “king” would arrive, no matter how little sense it made… except he forgot to “fulfill” the part about the Messiah coming to bring peace. And in the story, Jesus was clearly fulfilling the donkey prophecy on purpose. So even if it’s a true story, there’s nothing impressive about the fact that what Jesus did matched the prophecy.
Several more prophecies in the Old Testament mention a king, who they refer to as a “Branch”. The Branch is a righteous king descended from David who is to bring God’s people together again, which is what the Jewish Messiah is supposed to be. Does Jesus match the description of this Branch? Not really,6 but even if he did, it wouldn’t matter. That position has already been filled. According to the Bible, the Branch was Joshua son of Jozadak, a high priest who lived around 500 years before Jesus.7
Paul attempts to quote a verse from Isaiah, which he thinks is about a descendant of David ruling over foreign nations. Why should that be taken to be about Jesus, rather than one of the actual kings descended from David who reigned after Isaiah said that? Maybe none of them ruled over foreign nations? Well, Jesus didn’t rule over any nations.
Isaiah mentioned a chosen servant of God who would not cry out or be heard in the streets. Jesus did cry out, and was heard in the streets, so Jesus must not be who that was about. Unlike the part of Isaiah that Jesus misquoted as if it was a prediction of him healing the blind, this chapter actually mentions someone healing the blind. But it says whoever’s healing the blind will also free people from prison, which isn’t something the gospels say Jesus ever did.
Isaiah has a whole chapter about one innocent man taking the punishment for everyone else’s sins, and coming back to life after being killed. Despite the fact that it’s in the past tense, Jesus and his disciples thought this was a prediction about Jesus. But this chapter can’t be about him, because unlike Jesus, this man suffers silently. It says this man was pierced, but then it also says he was crushed. Why should we think this prophecy has been fulfilled by someone who only had one of those things done to him?
Matthew also misquotes one verse from that chapter so he can claim it’s about Jesus healing people, but even Matthew’s version of that verse doesn’t accurately describe what the gospels say about Jesus. He makes it sound like Jesus ended up suffering from all the conditions he took away from other people.
Also in that chapter of Isaiah is a statement that this man was given a grave with the wicked and the rich, which some people think was fulfilled when Joseph of Arimathea put Jesus in his own tomb. Joseph of Arimathea is described as rich, but not wicked, so that doesn’t work.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which is where Micah predicted a ruler would come from,8 who Matthew equates with the Messiah. But the person Micah was talking about was supposed to rescue Israel from the Assyrians, and I don’t think Jesus ever did anything like that. The New Testament doesn’t even mention Assyria.