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How did Matthew know that Hosea 11:1 was about Jesus?

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. (NIV)

Even looking at the context of the verse, I see no clues that this means anything more than the simple fact that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, freeing them from slavery.

When Hosea 11:1 was written, did people already realize that it was about the messiah, or was Matthew the first person to note it and revealed it for the first time in Matthew 2:13-15?

If it's the latter, how did he discover it? Is it really a prophecy if it's only revealed after it's fulfilled?

If it's the former, how did people know they were messianic prophecies?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Nathaniel, Lee Woofenden, curiousdannii, Dan, bruised reed Dec 19 '16 at 1:56

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  • Welcome Jon. This is a good question, but it may prove too broad, because 1) the answers to your question are going to be different for different prophecies (some might have been originally recognized as messianic, while others not) and 2) different groups associated with Christianity will have different approaches to some of these prophecies, with only some seeing them as relevant. You might consider asking about a specific prophecy and asking when in Christian tradition that verse was first applied to Jesus (checking first to make sure the biblical text itself doesn't make the connection). – Nathaniel Dec 15 '16 at 17:16
  • When you get a chance, I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. – Nathaniel Dec 15 '16 at 17:16
  • @Nathaniel, good point, I'll narrow it down. – Jon McClung Dec 15 '16 at 17:19
  • A question something like this might work well on our sister site BH.SE because we could use hermeneutic methods to arrive at an answer. – Dick Harfield Dec 16 '16 at 7:37
  • In Exodus following Passover God claimed all of the firstborn of Israel since the firstborn of Israel was not killed. Jesus was a firstborn, but also one that opened the womb. – BYE Dec 16 '16 at 23:00
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Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

After Jesus rose from the dead, he met two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. As they were walking on the road, he taught them what was said about him in all the Scriptures. They did not realize it was him until they arrived at the village and he broke bread with them then vanished. They immediately left and returned to the other disciples in Jerusalem and told them everything he had taught them on the road.

Luke 24:33-35 33 And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.

So in short, the disciples were instructed in Messianic passages of the Law and Prophets by Jesus himself.

  • Good point, I'd forgotten about that part. However, I still think a prophecy doesn't mean much unless you know it's a prophecy before it comes true (unless it's a pictorial prophecy, see my answer) – Jon McClung Dec 16 '16 at 16:13
  • @JonMcClung Well, when you consider that the Gospel was written about 50 years after the events transpired, the author had a lot of time to master the scriptures and process what happened, as well as consider other accounts, since it is based on at least one other source, probably two or three. If you mean that a prophecy doesn't mean much in general unless someone knows it's actually a prophecy, I have to disagree. What constitutes prophecy is determined by the Spirit of Prophecy, not by those who understand it- no one will understand it unless the selfsame Spirit reveals it. – Andrew Dec 16 '16 at 17:43
  • I guess I'm just thinking in terms of people who say "See! Jesus must have been the messiah! All the things that were prophesied about Him, it's so unlikely they would come true by accident!" Well, if we only know it was a prophecy because it did come true, that statement has less weight. Imagine it hadn't come true, no one would say "How could Jesus have been the messiah in light of Hosea 11:1?" because it's not clear that's a prophecy until it comes true. I'm not saying that makes it not a prophecy, simply that it's less impressive in terms of proving he must be the messiah. – Jon McClung Dec 16 '16 at 17:50
  • @JonMcClung care to chat about it? – Andrew Dec 16 '16 at 18:11
  • sure, but I don't know how – Jon McClung Dec 16 '16 at 18:41
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“I see no clues that this means anything more than the simple fact that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, freeing them from slavery.”

There appear to be clues in the context of Hosea 11 and the following verses that allude to more than an act accomplished in history, Jon. Read at least through verse 11.

11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the LORD.

This chapter appears similar to Ezekiel 36-37 and Isaiah 40-55 in that it speaks of prophecies concerning Gods covenant love. Hosea was not only speaking of the history of YHWH bringing Israel out of Egypt but was also pointing to a time when He would again rescue Israel and fulfill His promises to her.

In the time of Jesus I don’t think many Israelites believed God had fulfilled his promises. They were in exile to Rome. They were waiting rescue. They were very possibly waiting for the fulfillment of the Hosea 11 prophecy. When Jesus comes he seems to be saying through his words and actions, “I am the one you have been waiting for. Through forgiveness of sins and following me, I will save you from exile. I am your King”.
When Mathew quotes Hosea and says in 2:15,

“out of Egypt I called my son”,

he is not simply saying that since Israel came out of Egypt and so did Jesus, that therefore Jesus is the fulfillment of this passage. He is saying that Jesus is the embodiment of all that Israel was waiting for within the context of the promise of this Hosea passage. N.T. Wright gives a persuasive argument in “The New Testament and The People of God.

“What the early church is saying, when telling the story of Jesus’ resurrection and announcing it to the world as the summons to obedient faith, is that the history of, and promises to, Israel had come true in Jesus, that in his death and resurrection he had inaugurated the real return from that real exile.” (NTPG chp.13 pg. 400)

  • Very insightful. – Jon McClung Dec 18 '16 at 6:12
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    Jon, not an answer but perhaps a path for your curiosity: The book I mentioned above seems to hold that the whole plot and structure of Mathew is purposely constructed to tell the story of Jesus as the story of Israel in miniature because Jesus purposely lived his life in this manner and so "the often-remarked “fulfillment passages (‘All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken of by the Lord through the prophet…) are simply the tip of the iceberg."(NTPG Chp.13 Pg.388) – rob Dec 18 '16 at 22:36
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    @rob, similar to what you mention with N.T. Wright, I was also taught in seminary that Jesus is essentially Israel "collapsed" into one person. That is, Jesus fulfills Israel's mission to bear witness to Yahweh to all nations and to be a holy nation of priests. He fulfills this calling and then calls the nations into Israel (i.e. the Church). – Rev. Aaron Simms Dec 18 '16 at 23:40
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Some sources claim that it wasn't a prophecy in the sense that Jesus had to do it in order to prove He was the messiah. Rather, it was a pictorial prophecy. That is, it was foreshadowing Jesus' life, rather than explicitly predicting it. Another example of this would be Jonah's 3 days in the belly of the great fish. No one knew at the time that this was a pictorial prophecy of Jesus' 3 days in a tomb before being raised from the dead. Rather, it's only after the fact that we make the obvious connection.

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What I believe Matthew is saying is this: God first called His son out of Egypt. That was Israel. This we find in Hosea 11:1. But in the second verse of that same chapter, the prophet says, "[As] they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images." They were called out of Egypt, but as they called them, so they went from them. They served the Baalim and the graven images instead of the true God." In short: imperfection. Then Matthew in the NT goes on with saying that in Jesus this history is perfected. The Israelites were called out of Egypt, but were imperfect by serving Baalim. But Jesus was called out of Egypt, and was perfect in His obedience towards God. The Israelites were the sons of God. But Jesus perfected this being the Son of God. For Jesus was the Son of God in a more perfect sense, namely directly born from the Spirit.

In short: What was done imperfect in the Israelites, was perfected in Jesus. Looking at the original Greek lexicon on what "fulfilled" means is also helpful. It doesn't necessarily apply to prophecy.

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