If you study the Gospel According to Matthew, you will find a great many references to the Old Testament. In those references, you will often see Matthew say something like, “This took place to fulfill that which was spoken by the prophets.” Regularly, Matthew sees things that Jesus did or that happened around Jesus, and he saw that those events perfectly matched the Old Testament predictions of the coming Messiah.
It is always fascinating to see a prophecy fulfilled. When Joseph moved down to Egypt and then back to the land of Israel, to Nazareth, prophecy about Jesus was fulfilled. It seems highly unlikely, however, that Joseph thought much about the fact that he was fulfilling prophecy with the family’s change of address. He ran to Egypt because the angel said so and because there was a large Jewish community living in places like the city of Alexandria. Joseph picked Nazareth as a home town because of the dangerous political situation in Judea.
So, when things happen, and then we look up and see that it was predicted long beforehand, we think to ourselves, “Wow.” It is just amazing that people, walking through their normal lives, did things that God had said would happen hundreds of years before hand.
But, what about when people do things on purpose to fulfill prophecy? I ask this because Jesus, at least once, made a very calculated move to intentionally fulfill a prophecy. What does that say about prophecy and about Jesus?
Matthew 21:1-5- 1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
5 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”
When Jesus sent disciples to pick up the little donkey, he was doing so very much with the intent to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. Matthew points out to us that those words from the Old Testament prophet told Jerusalem to rejoice, because the promised King from God was coming to them, and there was a way to recognize him. The one God was sending to be the Savior would be humble, and would ride on a colt, a donkey’s foal, into Jerusalem.
Think about how much Jesus must have done to arrange this scene. While Matthew does not tell us this for sure, and so there is speculation here, it seems likely that Jesus had prearranged the use of this animal. Jesus told the disciples where to go to pick up the donkey. He told them what to say to the animal’s owners. Either this is a miracle of Jesus, using supernatural knowledge to know where to find a little donkey and what to say to its owners to get them to let him borrow it, or Jesus had talked with those owners and arranged the whole thing.
Then comes my question: Does the intentionality of Jesus in any way taint the fulfillment of prophecy? I would argue that it does not. Zechariah still perfectly predicted what the Messiah would do. Why would it be wrong for the Messiah to do it on purpose? In fact, I would argue that the intentionality of Jesus here actually serves to help us understand exactly what Jesus knew to be true of himself. If Jesus worked to fulfill a prophecy from several centuries before his birth, he definitely intended to identify himself as the King, the fulfillment of the prophecy. Jesus was saying in the loudest public voice possible that he indeed is the promised Messiah, the King sent by God.
Much Like C. S. Lewis challenged us regarding Jesus’ deity, we have only a few choices as to what to believe about Jesus in the fulfillment of this prophecy. He could be wrong about himself, thinking he is Messiah when he is actually not. That would make him an insane person, by the way. Or he could be tricking people on purpose, telling a lie about himself. That would make him evil. Or, the truth is, Jesus really is exactly the person God has been promising and promising and promising from the Garden of Eden on.
Any proper study of Jesus’ life, his teachings, his character, and his resurrection can lead us to only one conclusion about him. Jesus is God in flesh and the promised Messiah. Our only proper response, then, is to bow to him, receive him as our King and Master, and follow him with our lives.