The Promise of Messiah in the OT

The promise of the coming Messiah begin in embryonic form in Genesis 3:15 where God promised to remedy the entrance of sin into the world through a future descendant of the woman. Throughout the remainder of the Old Testament, this initial promise is developed and expanded so that the overall picture of the coming Messiah is filled in and revealed more and more clearly. In this way, Genesis 3:15 can be viewed as the initial strokes of paint on the canvas of biblical prophecy. Then, with each new prophecy, more detail and color is added to the canvas and the picture becomes fuller and clearer:

  • He will come through the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15).
  • He will come through the line of Shem (Gen 9:25-27).
  • He will come through the line of Abraham (Gen 12:3).
  • He will come through the line of Judah (Gen 49:8-12).
  • He will come through the line of Jesse (Is 11:1a).
  • He will come through the line of David (2 Sam 7:10-13; Ps 132:11b).
  • He will come from the town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
  • He will come as a child and a son (Is 9:6a).
  • He will be born of a virgin (Is 7:14).
  • He will be called “Immanuel” (Is 7:14).
  • He will be called “the Lord our righteousness” (Jer 23:6; 33:16; cf. Mal 4:2).
  • He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6c).
  • He will come in humility (Zech 9:9).
  • He will serve as a prophet in Israel (Deut 18:15, 18; cf. John 6:14).
  • He will bring good news to the afflicted (Is 61:1-3).
  • He will crush the head of the Serpent (Gen 3:15).
  • He will wash away the guilt of sinners (Is 4:1-4).
  • He will serve as a channel of divine blessing to the world (Gen 12:1-3).
  • He will be rejected by man, pierced by the Jews, and crushed by God the Father (Is 53:1-12; Zech 11:4-14; 12:10; 13:7; cf. Ps 22; cf. Dan 9:26a).
  • He will die as a substitutionary sacrifice for guilty sinners to provide forgiveness and salvation (Is 53:1-12; Zech 3:9).
  • He will be resurrected from the dead (Ps 16:10; cf. Acts 2:31).
  • He will come again in judgment upon the nations (Is 63:1-6).
  • He will bring destruction to the enemies of Israel (Num 24:15-19).
  • He will reign in perfect peace, justice, and righteousness as King over the entire earth (Gen 49:10; Num 24:17-19; Ps 2:6-12; 110:1-7; Is 9:6b-7; 11:1-16; 42:1-4; Jer 23:5; 33:14-2; Zech 9:10).
  • He will build the Temple of the Lord and rule on His throne as Priest (Zech 6:12-15).
  • He will unify and restore the nation of Israel (Ezek 36:16-38; 37:15-28).
  • He will feed and protect Israel as her divine Shepherd (Ezek 34:23-31; 37:15-28).
  • He will bring salvation to Israel and reign over her as King (Is 49:5-6a; Micah 5:2; Jer 23:5-6; 30:21; 33:16; Ezek 37:15-28).
  • He will be appointed as a covenant to the people and a light to the nations of the earth (Is 42:5-6; 49:6; cf. Is 55:4; cf. Mal 3:1).
  • He will be given glory and everlasting dominion over all the nations of the earth, and His kingdom will be established forever (Dan 7:13-14; 2 Sam 7:10-13; Ps 132:11b).
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10 responses to this post.

  1. Love this list! Glorious unpacking of the protoevangelium! My wife picked up DeHaan’s Portraits of Christ in Genesis at the thrift store for me on Valentine’s day!

    What would be the best book you’d recommend out there for the Messiah in the OT? My Pastor recommended Kaiser’s The Messiah in the OT.

  2. The resources I’ve found most helpful are Walt Kaiser’s The Messiah in the Old Testament and William Varner’s The Messiah: Revealed, Rejected, Received. I also just purchased The Messianic Hope by Michael Rydelnik, and it looks pretty good.

    PSL: Any additions to that list?

  3. I have an older one by a guy named A.M Hodgkin called Christ in all the Scriptures that is very good. Short articles on each book, but well done. My Pastor gave me one a year or so ago by David Baron called Rays of Messiah’s Glory that I haven’t read through, but what I have read is very good too.

  4. This list is awesome!

    Though, I’ve never been 100% sold on the ‘he will crush the serpent’s head’ … why didn’t the Old Testament expand further on this? why don’t the apostles pick up on this? The only place I’ve seen any mention of crushing a serpents/satan’s head is at the end of Romans (from memory, happy to be corrected), where Paul prays that Satans head would be crushed under *their* feet … not Jesus’s.

    Not even Revelation talks about Jesus crushing the serpents/Satan’s head.

    I’d say there are other proto-evangelium thingies going on in Genesis 3 (they hear the sound of God walking in the garden – as if in human form, coming to seek and save them, God graciously provides for them in the midst of judgment), but yeah, not 100% sold on the head crusher.

    Though as I’ve said, I’m happy to be corrected :D

  5. Matt J, not trying to be pejorative….but, seriously, you can’t see it?

  6. of course I can ‘see’ what is meant by the serpent-head-crusher angle. Jesus defeating Satan, of course I can see what is meant by it. Especially when Mel Gibson puts it in his movie (but did Jesus actually crush a snake’s head when he went into the garden to pray????)

    I’m just not 100% convinced that that is what is meant in the curse on the serpent.

    Show me where the Apostles make an explicit link to Jesus being a serpent crusher. Show me in the gospels, explicitly where Jesus crushes the serpents head or where his crucifixion, death and resurrection are referred to in serpent-head-crushing terms. I’m not being pejorative either; this is a genuine invitation.

    As I alluded to, the closest I’ve seen any reference to Satan’s/the serpents head being crushed is Romans 16:20: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under YOUR feet. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” Satan (not his head) is not promised to be crushed under Jesus’ feet, but the feet of the Christians in Rome.

    In Revelation, the serpent, identified as the devil/satan is thrown into the burning lake14:10 mentions him being tormented forever in the presence of the Lamb (Jesus), but the Lamb isn’t crushing the serpent’s head.

    Isn’t it more exegetically correct to link “he will crush/strike your head and you will strike his heel” with the preceding line, that God would “put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers”, which is the opposite of the authority that man had over the animals (in naming them) in Genesis 2? Rather than people caring for creation in the image of God, part of the creation now experiences enmity between humans and it.

    All that said, I’m not denying elements of proto-evangelium in Genesis 3; I’m just not 100% convinced that the head crusher is it.

  7. Good discussion and questions guys,

    The full weight of crushing Satan’s head awaits a future date (see Rom 16:20; Rev 20) but passages like Heb 2:14-15 should also be considered in this discussion as pointing to an already present victory over Satan as a defeated foe.

    It seems that some discussions of Gen 3:15 overlook key aspects of what is actually mentioned by Moses. At face value we can say, I believe with confidence, that this one who is later identified as the Messiah is 1) a human, 2) a male, 3) supernatural, and 4) of unusual birth–i.e., “the seed of the woman.” Each of these aspects of this coming One are wonderfully elaborated and expanded by the rest of the OT and then the NT.

  8. That’s assuming ‘your offspring’ refers to one person, and not all of humanity. Eve is named ‘Eve’ by Adam (3:20) because she ‘was the mother of all the living’.

  9. I think also the curse is on the serpent’s offspring; why make woman’s offspring one person, when the serpent’s offspring kind of implies all snakes? Or is Satan the child of the original Eden serpent?

    Further to this serpent crusher thing, I’ve had a bit of time to read through some commentaries. Gordon Wenham (Word Biblical Commentary) and Andrew Reid (Reading Genesis Today, Aquila Press). Wenham is much more technical, Reid is aimed at the general reader.

    I’m probably overstating my point a little. Both commentators see this curse as explaining ongoing hostility between the woman’s offspring and the serpent’s, which I take as a faithful exposition of the text.

    Reid makes no mention of a messianic interpretation, but rather draws out attributes of God that we see in ch. 2-3: his care for humans and creation, his grace expressed in allowing them to live for a while and giving them clothing, in summary, his “restraint from anger and desire to bless” (p. 40). He goes on to point out effectively Romans 5, the failure of Adam in contrast with the ‘success’ (at resisting temptation) of Christ. He also writes a bit about Jesus’ authority and submission in contrast to the grasping at authority in the curse (“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”) Jesus’ authority is not dominance, but submission and sacrifice.

    I think this is where we get into proto-evangelium territory.

    Wenham allows for a later messianic interpretation of 3:15, however says, “While a messianic interpretation may be justified in the light of subsequent revelation, a sensus plenior, it would perhaps be wrong to suggest that this was the narrator’s own understanding. Probably he just looked for mankind eventually to defeat the serpent’s seed, the powers of evil.” (p. 81)

    Wenham is sort of saying that Moses had no idea about this messianic implications, but God *could* have intended this deeper meaning.

    I’m hesitant to jump the gun and go straight to what we think might be God’s later intention, when we should aim for a clear understanding of authorial intent.

    Anyway, I still stand by my first comment: this is an awesome list. Thanks Matt Weymeyer!

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