In the first article bearing the above title it was contended that when the Scripture relates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to the eternal counsel of God, it does not in any way give the impression that the death of the Messiah was one of a number of “possibilities,” anyone of which might in the course of history be actualized. Rather the atoning death of the Mediator is set forth in the most unequivocal terms as irrevocably fixed from before the foundation of the world.
The problem to which we must address ourselves at this time concerns the relation of Old Testament prophecy to the cross of Christ. More precisely, it concerns the question as to whether such prophecy is in any way determinative of the course of history. In general it is, of course, a well-known fact that a prophet was to be regarded as the mouth-piece of Jehovah. The classic text describing the function of the prophet is Exodus 7:1, “And Jehovah said unto Moses, See, I have made thee as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.” Moses was thus to communicate his “divine” will to Pharaoh through the instrumentality of Aaron. The prophet is one who makes known to the people the will of God.
There is a second definitive element of the nature of prophecy which must also be noted. This is given to us in Deuteronomy 18:21, 22, “And if thou say in thy heart, How shall we know the word which Jehovah hath not spoken? when a prophet speaketh in the name of Jehovah, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which Jehovah hath not spoken: the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously, thou shalt not be afraid of him.” Some prophecy, then, is seen to have in it the element of prediction, foretelling. We may make this distinction in another way. All prophecy reveals the mind and will of God. Sometimes that mind and will pertain particularly to man’s duty; at other times that mind and will pertain to the future course of history as it has its origin in the eternal counsel of God.
It is generally admitted by conservative scholars of varying shades of opinion that there is a class of prophecies in the Old Testament which bear on the character, life, and work of the Messiah. Are these Messianic prophecies to be regarded simply as revelations of the divine will with respect to Messiah’s duty, and with respect to the duty of men in response to the Messiah; or, are these Messianic prophecies to be regarded as determinative of the history of the Messiah?
We know that the true prophet was characterized by the fact that his predictions, that is, his setting forth of God’s mind and will concerning future history, actually come to pass. God by the mouth of Isaiah said, “I am God and there is none like me; declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done; saying, My counsel shall stand and I will do all my pleasure…Yea I have spoken, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed, I will also do it” (Is. 46:8–10). Not only is true predictive prophecy the revelation of God’s eternal purpose which can never be thwarted or changed. If it can he shown that the Word of God regards these Messianic prophecies as partaking of this absolute character, as revealing what is the eternal counsel of God with respect to the character, life, and work of the Messiah, it will then be further established that the cross of Christ was inescapably certain, that there is no other possibility.
We know as a matter of fact that the New Testament in many instances quotes these Messianic prophecies and applies them directly to Jesus Christ. Even Jesus quotes them and applies them to himself. There is a phrase which is used in the New Testament repeatedly and in varying forms which is very instructive at this point. We read again and again that something was done by Christ or to him “that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” We see the phrase already in the very first chapter of the New Testament, “Now all this is come to pass that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet saying….” (Matthew 1:22). The phrase is used in such a way as to indicate that at least one of the purposes involved in the event’s taking place is the fulfillment of God’s prophetic word. Things happened in order to show that the Scripture was true. It is not c1aimed that the meaning of the phrase is exhausted by this idea, but only that the idea is there.
The New Testament, however, uses even stronger language. In Acts 1:16 we read, “Brethren, it was needful that the scriptures should be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spake before by the mouth of David concerning Judas who was guide to them that took Jesus.” The phrase “it was needful” is the ordinary Creek word signifying necessity. But Thayer in his Creek lexicon takes particular care to point out that it is a word which may and is used to express the necessity which arises from the fact of divine appointment. He says, “necessity established by the counsel and decree of God, especially by that purpose of His which relates to the salvation of men by the intervention of Christ and which is disclosed in the Old Testament prophecies; in this use especially of what Christ was destined finally to undergo, his sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension.” Hence in the Spirit’s choice of this word we sense that we can believe only that we are to regard the prophecies of the Old Testament in respect to the Messiah as absolutely determinative of Messiah’s person and work. It was said in the Old Testament that Messiah’s salvation would result from the victory of the seed of the woman over the seed of the serpent; that the seed of Abraham would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth; that the virgin-born seed of David would be Immanuel and that his government should have no end; that he should be the Prince of peace and the mighty God; that he should be the Suffering Servant who would be bruised for our iniquities, who would bear our stripes and the chastisement of our peace, who would come riding upon the foal of an ass, who would be the good Shepherd smitten by the sword of Jehovah, looked upon by those who had pierced him. Now these things MUST come to pass—and into that word MUST there should be poured all the living force of which human language is capable—these things MUST come to pass. It is the evident intent of Scripture to teach that Jesus could not have been the Messiah if any contrary possibilities had been actualized in his life.
Jesus also uses this very word “must” in the garden of Gethsemane. His misunderstanding disciples are seeking to defend him against his captors when he reminds them, “Or thinkest thou that I cannot beseech my Father, and he shall even now send me more than twelve legions of angels? How then shall the scripture he fulfilled, that thus it must be?” Again after his resurrection our Lord instructs his disciples in these words, “These are my words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must needs be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms concerning me…Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:44, 46). It is impossible to see how such language can be tortured into saying that in the counsel of God there was some other possibility that might have been actualized.
Further confirmation of the indestructible link that is forged between the prophetic word and the accomplished fact is derived from one passage in the book of Acts. Peter in his second recorded address says, “And now brethren, I know that in ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But the things which God foreshowed by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled.” God uses the sinful ignorance of the Jews and their Gentile rulers to bring to pass the fulfillment of his prophetic word spoken to his servants so many centuries before. Thus the link is forged more certainly by the fact that fulfillment of the prophecy engages the very hand of God. God in his providential government of all things sees to it that the prophetic word is fulfilled.
How may we, then, speak of a possibility for the Messiah other than the ones which became actualized in the course of history? If even for the sake of argument we would agree that in the secret counsel of God there was concealed some other possibility which could somehow become actualized, certainly when God has spoken in his word of prophecy and when in the Scripture it is solemnly declared that this word of prophecy is absolutely determinative of Messiah’s history, we can only admit that with respect to the atoning death of the cross there was no other possibility even imaginable. Surely, no other conclusion can be reached except through a rejection of the authority of Scripture which is frightening to behold.
In Messianic prophecy God is revealing his eternal purposes of grace with respect to fallen man. Messianic revelation is covenant revelation par excellence. In that revelation we are confronted with unequivocal statements from the very throne of heaven which reveal the eternal will and purpose of God with respect to the Mediator’s work of redemption. These statements reveal in the most absolute sense of the word what that eternal will is with respect to the atoning death of Jesus who is called the Christ. Only when we are also prepared to speak of the “possibility” that God in his Holy Word has lied to men, may we say that in His eternal counsel there was some other “possibility” with respect to the death of Jesus Christ.
In a further article it will be shown that this very conviction was self-consciously held by Jesus, that in his thinking there was no other real possibility.