We’re looking at places where the New Testament quotes an Old Testament passage that’s talking about YHWH and then applies it to Jesus. There are two pretty solid examples in the Gospels.
The first one we meet in the entire New Testament occurs in all four Gospels. John the Baptist begins preaching, urging his hearers to repent. John’s Gospel tells us that the Jewish leadership “sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem” (Jn 1.19) to find out what he was up to. He replies, ”I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’ ” (Jn 1.23). The Synoptic writers give a bit more of his answer: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Lk 3.4 // Mt 3.3, Mk 1.3). And all but Mark note what John’s hearers would have known as he spoke: this is a quotation from the Hebrew Scriptures, specifically Isaiah 40:3.
The passage in Isaiah is referring to Judah’s return from captivity in Babylon, when God would “make straight in the desert a highway” (Is 40.3) for God’s people to return to their land. Like many prophecies, however, it has a double meaning. John the Baptist applies it to his task of preparing the way for the Messiah, the one who would come. Isaiah’s phrase “Prepare ye the way of the LORD” uses the name YHWH. John the Baptist claims to be preparing the way of Jesus; later in the same conversation, he says, “Among you stands One whom you do not know. It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (Jn 1.26-27). And the next day he removes all doubt regarding the one he’s referring to: “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, “After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me” ‘ “ (Jn 1.29-30).
Some months later, Jesus himself speaks of John as the fulfillment of a similar Old Testament prophecy:
7 As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! 9 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,
‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You,
Who will prepare Your way before You’ “ (Mt 11, citing Mal 3.1).
Jesus says that John the Baptist is a prophet—indeed, more than a prophet. Throughout the Bible, a prophet’s words are reliable, sourced in God himself, and thus to be heeded.
John says that he’s the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of one who would prepare the way for the LORD, YHWH.
John then says that Jesus is the one for whom he is preparing the way.
And then Jesus says that John prepared the way for him.
What are we to make of this?
The New Testament, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1.1) opens with the clear claim that this Jesus is Jehovah, YHWH, the I AM. And it says that in the New World Translation too.
And we’re just getting started.
Part 3: “I Have Seen the LORD” | Part 4: “Call upon the Name of the LORD” | Part 5: “He Ascended up on High” | Part 6: Excursus: Descent into Hell | Part 7: “The LORD Will Come in Fire” | Part 8: “Let All the Angels of God Worship Him” | Part 9: “Your Years Shall Not Fail” | Part 10: Other Possibilities