What convinced Jesus’ followers that He was the Messiah?

Last updated on April 27, 2023

In Luke 7, John the Baptist sent disciples to Jesus Christ to ask Him: “Are You the One Who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (John 7:19). John the Baptist knew that he himself had been tasked to “prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight” (Isaiah 40:3) and he had testified that Jesus came “from heaven” and was “above all” (John 3:31). But in Luke 7, Jesus had not (yet) fulfilled all of John’s own announcements and expectations (for example about a coming judgment), which may have prompted his question: “Are You the One [the Messiah] Who is to come?” If even John had to ask this question, how were the people around Jesus supposed to know that He was/is the prophesied Messiah?

Messianic clues

The very first Old Testament reference to the anointed One is in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. Around 1450 BC, God already promised to Moses that He would raise up a special Prophet for His people. Later prophets received further promises about this coming Savior, also called the Messiah. Jesus’ disciple Philip is aware of this when he tells Nathanael, who would also become a disciple following this discovery, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” In his announcement, Philip also includes prophecies by prophets such as Isaiah (4:2; 7:14; 9:6-7; 40:10-11, etc.), Jeremiah (23:5; 33:14), Ezekiel (34:23), and Zechariah (6:12).

Messianic clues were unfolding before the eyes of the disciples, and they realized they were witnessing events that had been prophesied hundreds of years earlier. Two of the Gospel writers are known to have accompanied Jesus throughout His ministry. The apostle Matthew had realized Jesus was the promised Messiah long before putting pen to paper. The fulfillment of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:13-15; Isaiah 52:13-53:12 in Matthew 8:16-17, and Malachi 4:5-6[1] in Matthew 11:14-15, are just some of the dozens of Messianic prophecies that Matthew recognized from Scripture himself, or was made aware of by Jesus.

The apostle John shared many prophecies relating to the crucifixion in his Gospel. Other, earlier fulfillments are Exodus 12:1-51 in John 1:19, Genesis 22:1-18 in John 3:16, Deuteronomy 18:15-16 in John 5:45-47, and Micah 5:2 in John 7:40-43.

Were the apostles immediately aware of Jesus’ deity?

The apostles progressively realized Who was in their midst. Jesus’ authoritative teaching (Matthew 7:28-29) and the many miracles that He performed gradually served to establish in their minds the conviction that He was the One, as they testified afterwards (Acts 10:38). But this didn’t happen overnight. In Mark 4:35-41 we read how Jesus rebukes the elements of nature to restore safety for the disciples in the boat that appears at risk of sinking during a storm. Filled with fear, they ask each other, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?

How, indeed, can we know Who He is? The answer is: we consult God’s Word, because His Word is how God shares His truths with us.  The disciples in the boat may well have been reminded of Psalm 107:28-30: “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and He brought them to their desired haven.” Jesus calmed the storm and the sea in the same manner that God did in the Psalm.

God’s answer to us in times of anguish

Returning to John the Baptist in Luke 7, Jesus used Scripture to answer the Baptist’s question. Jesus could have replied: “Yes, indeed, I am the Messiah.” But John, imprisoned, may have been experiencing a faith crisis. He had personally heard the voice of God when he had baptized Jesus (Mark 1:9-11) and according to Luke 1:15, had been “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” His entire life had been spent preparing for the mission prophesied to his father in Luke 1:16-17, promising even the “spirit and power of Elijah”. Within a year – or possibly two – from starting his ministry, however, John the Baptist found himself in prison, and Jesus had not yet fulfilled all Messianic prophecies. So, he desperately needed confirmation.

Rather than saying, “Yes, I am,” Jesus provided a response that was guaranteed to remove all of John’s doubts. When John’s disciples arrived, Jesus first spent an hour healing “many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight.” He then told John’s disciples: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.

These are the words of Isaiah 29:18; 35:5 and 61:1. John would have instantly recognized these and derived comfort from them. (Note that Jesus didn’t quote the last part of 61:1, “proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”) Interestingly, Jesus waits for John’s disciples to leave before He tells His own disciples: “Among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

Could God not have been ‘clearer’?

It is truly fascinating that all of the Old Testament books contain specific or general references to Jesus. In fact, there are hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament about Jesus Himself and His ministry, even though the books were written by approx. 40 writers who must all have received separate divine inspiration. The prophecies are ‘hidden treasures’, to be revealed to whoever needed to read them at the right time. None of the prophecies are ‘signposted’ as: “This is about the Son of God Who will be incarnated; will be the Messiah and will redeem the sin of mankind” – these treasures are only available to those who are willing to make the effort and study the Word. Yet, there is more to it than that.

The Pharisees and scribes were very good at studying Scripture and had no trouble in pinpointing the Messiah’s birthplace (Matthew 2:3-6), for example. But as a Rabbi, Jesus did not fit their description of the Messiah. They had hoped that the Messiah would physically destroy the tyranny of Rome and physically restore the kingdom of Israel. Jesus did not do these things and what He did do, was not to their liking because it undermined their rabbinic teachings and control. We need spiritual discernment by committing to Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit.

How can Biblical prophecies convince us?

It was the combination of Jesus’ authoritative teaching; the miracles He performed AND the fulfillment of Scripture, that convinced His disciples. His entire earthly life, from start to ‘finish’, was foretold in Old Testament verses. Not only can this convince us that Jesus is the One – it firmly establishes that no-one else is ‘the one’, because no-one else has over a millennium of prophecies behind them to back up such a claim.

And there are prophecies for us, too, which we are able to discover because of what we read in John 16:7-15. A selection of treasures: John 14:2, Romans 8:28, Romans 10:9-10, Philippians 4:6-7, Hebrews 13:5 and 1 Peter 2:24. Scripture helps believers to discern what is truth and what is not.

 

[1] Note that this last reference is to John the Baptist as the forerunner of Jesus who announced His coming, not Jesus Himself.

Thanks to Gospel Images for the beautiful painting.

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