I was asked this great question from a young man in South Texas.
“Jesus knew the Old Testament. Could he have believed? Or was he spending his first 30 years crafting a story of the returned king that would fit in the Old Testament?"
This is a fascinating idea. I’ve heard it asked another way.
“If Jesus knew the scripture, couldn’t he have intentionally fulfilled the prophecies?”
This question implies that Jesus might have only been an average mortal human, without the advantage of divinity.
So let’s look at some of the prophecies and determine whether an ordinary person could fulfill the prophecies intentionally.
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. (Matthew 2:16-18)
These verses describe a cruel massacre of a bunch of babies, by King Herod. Geez, Herod. Lighten up. Am I right? Jesus was less than two years old at this time. Although he was the indirect cause, he was not directly involved in the massacre of the children. So I’ll ask the question. Could a typical 2-year old orchestrate such an event?
My daughter is two, and we’re lucky if she goes thirty minutes without putting something sharp in her mouth. It’s hard to believe that a 2-year-old could know the scripture and plan such an intricate event. Not to mention how twisted the 2-year-old would have to be to pull together such a terrible crime against humanity.
Here is another example:
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son. (Matthew 2:14-15)
He’s referring to a prophecy in Hosea written many years before Jesus was born. This series of events also took place when Jesus was two. It followed the massacre that we previously investigated.
I can barely get my kid to go into her room for bedtime. It’s difficult to see how a two-year-old could craft a situation in which he gets his entire family to immigrate to Egypt and then return to Israel.
Here’s another one that Jesus would have no control over, because he would have been only about two years old, maybe three.
But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:22-23)
We have three prophecies fulfilled, in one single (possibly two) years of Jesus’ childhood. For these three previous examples, Jesus would have to be already able to read. He would have to gain access to a Torah. He would have had to be able to pick out these subtly worded prophecies. He’d then need to exert enough influence over his parents to... well anyway. You get the point. I won’t beat the dead horse here... although I’m sure you’d watch if I did. You get the point. He was a kid when these happened, and therefore the events would be out of his control.
These few incidents are something that confused Jewish scholars of antiquity for years. They knew that the Messiah was supposed to both be 1. From Egypt, and 2. From Nazareth. They didn’t know how that was going to work.
Many scholars of the time believed that the Messiah would be two different men because there were so many prophecies that described him in a variety of ways. Some prophecies described him as meek and mild. Others described him as a king who would rule with a fist of iron.
The scholars of Jesus time had a hard time seeing how all the pieces would fit together. That further illustrates the point. There was no clear image of what the Messiah would be because the prophecies were mysterious enough to misinterpret but obvious enough in hindsight.
What about his death?
The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced. (John 19:35-37)
These prophecies, As John says, predict that none of Jesus' bones would be broken in his death. It was customary for Roman executioners to break the crucified person's legs. This would ensure their death, as they needed intact legs to push against the cross to get a breath. However, Jesus died before they could do that. Instead, he was pierced through the side with a spear. Something the above verse also predicts.
The list goes on and on and on. Matthew is a really good place to look on the subject of prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. It’s estimated that there are something in the range of 300 prophecies fulfilled by Him. The Bible is packed with many more. It’s worth studying.