Often prophecy in the New Testament can perplex readers. Sometimes is seems as though the New Testament writers were not consistent in their use of the Old Testament. Here is my feeble attempt at an illustration that may help shed light on how the New Testament writers understood Old Testament prophecy.
The two main painting styles I am familiar with are “Replication” and “Abstract”.
One type of painting technique attempts to replicate a photo or event with minute detail and accuracy. This was my choice of style when I first began to paint. I loved to paint fruit as realistic as possible or reduplicate photographs on a canvas.
Another form of art is known as Impressionism. Abstract art uses a much broader stroke of artistic interpretation yet still conveys a message or picture. Against all odds (and to my grandfather’s chagrin), most of my current paintings lean towards the way of Van Gogh.
I have learned to appreciate both mediums and understand their places in the art realm. Neither one is wrong but they both have their benefits.
This analogy may be helpful in relation to Scriptural prophecy.
- Literal Fulfillment
Matthew 2:6 is a direct fulfillment of Micah 5:2. Jesus’ birthplace is predicted hundreds of years in advanced and is fulfilled exactly as foretold. I would equate this with replication type paintings. The Old Testament prophet says “A+B will make C” and thus the New Testament equation unfolds.
- Typological fulfillment.
An example of this would be found in Matthew 2:15. Matthew saw the life of Israel and the life of Jesus and did not think it was a coincidence. Jesus was not in Egypt for slavery but for safety. Jesus is the true and better Israel and fulfills everything Israel was not. In this medium of prophecy, the New Testament writers see a divine foreshadow, theme, or event in the Old Testament and connect it with the life or ministry of Christ. Though these prophecies are not necessarily a detailed blueprint that would have been anticipated, they depict pictures of the Messiah which the inspired authors used. I would compare this type of prophecy with impressionistic art. (e.g. Mt 2:16-18, 2:23)
Both are right and both have their beauty and place in the realm of Scripture. The New Testament writers knew how to read the Bible properly and we would do well to follow their method of study.