So where, exactly,do we find evidence that Jesus was anticipated or foretold in the Old Testament? Christian and Jewish scholars agree that certain passages in the Old Testament are messianic in nature. Of course, we speak from the perspective of an audience that has access to the New Testament.
Keep in mind that the prophets had a contemporary purpose – meaning that Isaiah, Micah and Ezekiel wrote for their contemporaries. Using the historical critical method, the biblical scholar considers the age during which the Sacred Author wrote, the social and political milieu, and what the author was trying to convey to his contemporary audience.
It just so happens that their prophetic writing not only spoke to their own age, but also, as their writing was inspired by God, they also foretold of the coming of Jesus Christ. This is not to say that Micah, Isaiah or Ezekiel knew of the coming of Jesus Christ. Rather, inspired by God, they correctly anticipated the mode or the message of the messiah, who turned out to be the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
The church tacitly recognizes certain Old Testament passages as prophetic because they are read during the Season of Advent. The following passages are prototypically messianic, and most Christians believe the messiah or king to which they refer is Jesus Christ:
He will come from Judah – Genesis 49:10
The sceptre shall not depart form Judah, nor the ruler’s staff form beneath his feet, until he ocmes to whom it belongs, and to him shall be the obedience of all the peoples.
He will be a descendant of Jacob – Numbers 24:17
I see him, but not now. I begold him, but not nigh, a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…
He will come from the line of Jesse** – Isaiah 11:1-2
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall come out of his roots. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.
God will not cut off the line of Jacob and Jesse – Sirach 47:22
But the Lord will never give up his mercy, nor cause any of his works to perish; he will never blot out the descendants of his chosen one, nor destroy the posterity of him who loved him; so he gave a remnant to Jacob, and to David a root of his stock.
He shall come from Bethlehem** – Micah 5:2
But you, O Bethelehem Ephratha, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, for form you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is of old, from ancient days.
He shall be born of a Virgin** – Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Though of David and Jacob’s line, he will be of humble origin – Amos 9:8-12
But I will not destroy the house of Jacob completely… on that day I will raise up the fallen hut of David, I will wall up its breaches, raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in days of old…
He will shepherd his people as God himself*** – Ezekiel 34:10-16
I will claim my sheep from them… I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep… The lost I will seek out, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal…
Some of these passages require commentary. For instance, many claim that Catholics improperly translate Isaiah 7:14. They argue the term that Catholics translate as “virgin” ought to to be translated as “maiden” or “young woman.” The author Roy Schoeman has argued that Catholic scholars may be right after all. It was not Saint Jerome (who translated the bible into Latin) who first chose the term “virgin” instead of “young woman.”
On the contrary, the Greek of Jewish Scripture unambiguously deems Isaiah 7:14 to refer to a “virgin” (parthenos), not merely a young woman. Don’t believe me? See the Septuagint’s version of Isaiah 7, in the original Greek, here or here. Just to be clear, the Pentateuch was a translation of Hebre Scripture written 150 to 250 years before Jesus was born.
** This passage is part of an Advent first reading.
***This passage is read on the last Sunday in Ordinary Time – the feast of Christ the King.