A King Shall Reign: A CHRISTIAN APOLOGETIC FROM JEREMIAH 23:5-6
A part of the apologetic armory of the Christian faith is fulfilled prophecy. One of the common methods of historical apologetics "calls attention to fulfilled prophecy. For example . . . the probability that all the biblical prophecies regarding the Messiah would be fulfilled in a single person (Jesus) without supernatural design is infmitesimally small" (Beilby 311). While there are no prophecies in the Qur'an, in the Hindu Vedas, in the sayings of Buddha, Confucius, or in the Book of Mormon, it has been estimated that "30% of the Bible consists of [predictive] prophecy of one kind or another, making it unique in religious literature" (Blanchard 408). "There is nothing in the Qur'an [or any of the other above purported revelations], by way of types and shadows, that serves as evidence of its divine origin, whereas the Bible contains large sections of typology (even entire books - cf. The Epistle to the Hebrews) that prove its divine origin" (Pugh 7).
Professor Peter Stoner, from the writings of four Old Testament prophets-Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Micah-has identified eleven specific prophecies about Israel, and calculated the probability of all eleven prophecies being fulfilled to be one in 8x1063, Stoner gives an illustration of what this means.
If we were to scoop together a pile of coins equal in size to 100 billion stars in each of two trillion galaxies in just one second, and then add to the pile at the same rate every second, day and night, for twenty-one years, we would be ready for the test. If we then asked a blindfolded friend to pick out one marked coin for this incomprehensibly massive pile, his chances of doing so would be one in 8xl063 , the same as the likelihood that our four prophets could have got things right by guesswork. As even these mind-boggling figures tell nothing like the full story (they apply to just eleven prophecies out of several hundred) the Bible's prophetic element adds an impressive dimension to its integrity and presents an enormous problem to the sceptic. (Blanchard 409-10)
What is predictive prophecy? In an old volume (1832) titled, The Evidences of Christianity in Their External or Historical Division Exhibited in a Course of Lectures, I have found what, in my judgment, is the best definition of predictive prophecy I have read. Prophecy (predictive) is:
. . . [A] declaration of future events, such as no human wisdom or forecast is sufficient to make-depending on a knowledge of the innumerable contingencies of human affairs, which belongs exclusively to the omniscience of God; so that from its very nature, prophecy must be divine revelation. (McIlvaine 238)
The very nature of true predictive prophecy is supernatural. It cannot be explained without the omniscience of God and, when legitimate, is proof, in itself, of the divine message it sets forth. David Hume, prince of skeptics, said, "All prophecies are real miracles, and as such only, can be admitted as proofs of any revelation" (qtd. in McIlvaine 239). The Bible not only contains predictive prophecy, but it also implies the apologetic value of such in the following: "'Present your case,' says the Lord. 'Bring forth your strong reasons,' says the King of Jacob. . . ‘Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods ... '" (Isaiah 41 :21, 23).
The following argument, developed in its basic structure by the late Thomas B. Warren, evidences the value of predictive prophecy, and its fulfillment, as proof of the religion to which is it connected and the revelation which that religion claims:
1. All predictive prophecies which can be explained solely on the basis of supernatural influence and which were clearly made known before their corresponding fulfillments are evidences (proofs) which verify the claims of the religion involved.
2. All predictive prophecies recorded in the Bible are predictive prophecies which can be explained solely on the basis of supernatural influence and which were made known before their corresponding fulfillments.
3. Therefore, all predictive prophecies recorded in the Bible are evidences (proofs) which verify the claims of the religion involved (Shelly 20, 132).
An Application of Jeremiah 23:5-6 as Proof of the Christian Religion
No prophet preached more faithfully, more forthrightly, or with more feeling, than Jeremiah.
It was Jeremiah's lot to prophesy at a time when all things in Judah were rushing down to the final and mournful catastrophe; when political excitement was at its height; when the worst passions swayed the various parties, and the most fatal counsels prevailed. It was his to stand in the way over which his nation was rushing headlong to destruction; to make an heroic effort to arrest it, and to turn it back; and to fail, and be compelled to step to one side and see his own people, whom he loved with the tenderness of a woman, plunge over the precipice into the wide, weltering ruin. (Morgan 10)
Jeremiah began prophesying during the thirteenth year of King Josiah (627 BC) and he continued through four other kings-Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. He witnessed the end of the monarchy, the exile into captivity, and the destruction of Jerusalem. Although his prophecies of the Messiah are not as numerous as Isaiah's, Jeremiah did set forth a multiplicity of prophetic utterances concerning the Christ. He referred to Messiah as "David their King" (30:9) and His (Messiah's) day as the days of "a new covenant" (31:31-34). Some of the clearest statements of Jeremiah concerning the Messiah are discovered in the following text that serves as a basis for the remainder of this study:
"Behold the days are coming," says the Lord, "That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Jeremiah 23:5-6; cf. 33:15-16)
The following observations implied in the above passage (Jeremiah 23:5-6) are set forth as evidence of the apologetic value of this passage, the assurance that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, and the comfort, consolation, and spiritual security that result: (1) The Origination of the Christ, (2) The Administration of the Christ, and (3) The Designation of the Christ.
The Origination of the Christ
The origin of this One about whom Jeremiah prophesied is Divine in nature. The Lord said, "Behold the days are coming ... that I will raise to David a Branch ... " (v. 5, emp. added). A century earlier, the prophet Micah had written, " ... [O]ut of [Bethlehem] shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting' (Micah 5:2). One translation renders "from old, from everlasting" as "from days of eternity" (NASV) and another has a marginal note which says, "from ancient days" (ASV, cf. Danial 7: 13, 22). Jesus said, "For I have come down from heaven . . ." (John 6:38). He said, ". . . I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true. . . . I am from Him and He sent Me" (John 7:28-29). Furthermore, the origination of this One is Davidic in nature. God said, ". . . I will raise to David ... a King" (v. 5, emp. added). He came from the royal line of David (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-13). He is the Son of David (Matthew 1:1).
Although the One of whom Jeremiah spoke here is Divine and Davidic in origin, He is also said to be disparaging in nature. The term Branch evidences His lowly and self effacing nature. This word Branch (tsemach, Heb.) is "never used of a twig or branch, but of that which grows directly out of the ground" (Smith 345). Isaiah predicted He would come as a root from a dry ground (Isaiah 53:2). Young says "[d]ry ground refers to the lowly conditions and background" in which He appeared and this "suggests the miserable nature of the conditions" in which His life was Iived (342). Young elaborates:
David was a man of form, by which is meant that he was a comely person (1 Sam. 16: 18). The servant, however, has neither form nor glory. Those things that in the eyes of many are requisite for leadership were not found in him. . . . It is a sad picture. The servant dwelt in the midst of his own people, and behind his physical form the eye of faith should have seen the true glory; but looking upon his outward appearance, Israel found nothing of beauty to delight its eye.
This verse does not describe the physical appearance of Christ. On that subject the entire Bible is silent. Rather, the purpose is to show that the appearance of the servant was such that man, judging from a wrong perspective, would completely misjudge him. (342)
The Administration of the Christ
The administration of the Branch consists of a King and His Kingdom. The text says, "A King shall reign . . ." (v. 5). In some fashion, this King would sit on the throne of David (Jeremiah 33:17). When the gospel of Christ was preached in its fullness for the first time (Acts 2), Peter said: ". . . David is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day" (Acts 2:29). However, God had sworn with an oath that of the fruit of David's body He would raise up One to sit on David's throne (cf. 1 Samuel 7:13-14; Psalm 132:11). David, foreseeing this, predicted the resurrection of Christ (Psalm 16:8-11). Peter concluded, "This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God. . . . Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:32-33, 36). Jesus Himself, said: "You say rightly that I am a king. . . . I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (John 18:37; Revelation 3:21).
The administration of the Branch consists of wisdom and understanding. The text says, "A King shall reign and prosper" (v. 5, KJV, NKJ). Other translations say "deal wisely" (ASV, RSV, ESV), "reign wisely" (NIV), and "act wisely" (NASV). Concerning the Branch, Isaiah wrote, "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding . . ." (Isaiah 11:2). Concerning the King whom he identified as "God" (Psalm 45:1, 6-7; cf. Hebrews 1:8-9), the Psalmist said, ''You are fairer than the sons of men; Grace is poured upon Your lips" (Psalm 45:2). He came to His hometown of Nazareth and taught in the synagogue. Upon hearing Him, the people were astonished and asked, "Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him! . . . Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary? (Mark 6:2-3). He became for us "wisdom from God" (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30). Luke wrote, "So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth" (Luke 4:22).
The administration of the Branch consists of justice and righteousness. Jeremiah said that He will execute judgment (justice-ESV, NASV, ASV, RSV) and righteousness. He will do what is just and right (NIV). Justice and righteousness were not characteristics of the monarchical administrations with which Jeremiah was familiar (cf. Jeremiah 22:13). He saw his nation pass from the good times of King Josiah to the state of iniquity and inequity in which the people lived during the days of Judah's last four ungodly kings. Jeremiah's message included the plea to "do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place" (Jeremiah 22:3, ESV). In King Jesus we see One who is infinitely just and righteous. The scepter of His kingdom is a scepter of righteousness (Psalm 45:6-7; Hebrews l :8-9). In Christ, divine justice and righteousness are conjoined to the benefit of the one who has an obedient trust in Jesus.
[B]eing justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26)
The administration of the Branch consists of salvation and security. "In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely" (v. 6). The language implies one great act of salvation that will never have to be repeated (Smith 346; cf. Hebrews 9:12; 10:10). The Savior came out of Judah (Hebrews 7: 14) to "save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). The security possessed by Israel in the text is the picture of the security of the obedient believer in Christ as the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16; Romans 8:1, 35-39; John 10:29; 1 John 5:13; 2 Timothy 1:12).
The Designation of the Christ
Jeremiah says, "Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS" (v. 6). The parallel text (33:16-17) affirms "this is the name by which SHE will be called . . .” (33:16, emp. added). Because the title is here applied to Jerusalem some say it also properly belongs to Israel in 23:6. However, the context strongly supports this as designating a personal Messianic title and was interpreted thusly by the Jews in the Targum, Midrash, and Talmud (Smith 347). The designation given Messiah here designates the very essence of this One. He is the Lord. He is Our Righteousness. As connected with verse five, the title implies His deity and His vicarious, substitutionary work.
"But of Him you are in Christ Jesus who became for us wisdom from God-and righteousness: (1 Corinthians 1:30). Israel being "ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law" (Romans 10:3-4). "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Paul affirmed that he suffered the loss of all things that he might gain Christ" and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness . . . but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" (Philippians 3 :9). The Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation, because in it is revealed the righteousness of God (i.e. how God makes men righteous) (Romans 1:16-17). All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) but, in Christ, through the merits of His blood, we are forgiven and made righteous (Ephesians 1:7). The One designated by Jeremiah as "THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS" (23:6; 33:16) is the same One of whom Isaiah prophetically spoke when he stated, ". . . By His knowledge My righteous servant shall justify many . . ." (Isaiah 53:11). By a knowledge of Him (i.e. hearing, believing, and obeying the truth of the Gospel, cf. Hebrews 8:11-12), sinful man is made free from the guilt and consequences of his sin (unrighteousness, cf. 1 John 5:17a; John 8:32).
We have observed how Jeremiah, some six hundred years before Jesus Christ, prophetically set forth (1) the ORIGINATION of the Christ (2) the ADMINISTRATION of the Christ and (3) the DESIGNATION of the Christ. The value of this great passage (Jeremiah 23:5-6) includes (1) apologetic evidence in the form of prophecy made and fulfilled (2) assurance that the Christ is King in the Davidic line and (3) spiritual comfort, consolation and security because of One whose righteousness enables us to "become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5 :21). Hallelujah! What a Savior! As Guest has stated:
When he uttered these words, it was almost as though Jeremiah stood in the gospel age, side by side with those apostles who had the privilege of witnessing Jesus' ascension into heaven. Squinting up into the brilliance of the cloud that received Him out of their sight, they were present at the supreme political event of the universe-the coronation of Christ as King. When He sat down at the right hand of the Father, He was righteousness for a race of fallen humanity. Jeremiah's voice rings out, proclaiming His name to the age in which he spoke: Yahweh Tsidkenu, the Lord our Righteousness! On this and only this vision could the prophet rest his heart and receive consolation concerning the wreckage around him. It was the final word. . . . How it must have astonished him to entertain the idea that one Person's righteousness could restore a race of humanity that had lost theirs-this person would come from the throne of David and execute judgment in such a way that He could actually become righteousness for us in a substitutionary way. Indeed God had shown him" great and mighty things" (v. 3). (170, 239)
Beilby, J. "Historical Apologetics." New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics. Ed. W. C. Campbell-Jack and Gavin McGrath. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006.
Blanchard, John. Does God Believe in Atheists? Auburn: Evangelical P, 2000.
Guest, John. The Communicator's Commentary Series Old Testament: Jeremiah, Lamentations. Vol. 17. Waco: Word, 1988.21 vols.
McIlvaine, Charles Pettit. The Evidences of Christianity in Their External or Historical Division: Exhibited in a
Course of Lectures. Ninth rev. ed. New York: American Tract Society, 1832.
Morgan, G. Campbell. Studies in the Prophecy of Jeremiah. Reprint. Old Tappan: Revell, 1969.
Pugh, Charles C. III Christianity vs. Islam. 2004. New Martinsville: Threefold, 2007.
Shelly, Rubel. What Shall We Do With the Bible? Jonesboro: National Christian, 1975.
Smith, James E. What the Bible Teaches About the Promised Messiah. Nashville: Nelson, 1993.
Young, Edward J. The Book of Isaiah: The English Text, with Introduction, Exposition. and Sores. 1972. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.