The challenge that is often posed by skeptics to the faithful is whether the Apostles simply read the Old Testament into the Passion narrative in the wake of the crucifixion of Jesus. It is a fair challenge, one that I’ve wrestled with myself. It’s easy to think that if you needed to make a specific narrative to fit what happened to your leader who was supposed to be the Messiah to go look for answers in Scripture.
My answer would be rather simple and most of it has to rely on the assent to the available evidence. St. Paul writes, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor. 1:23 RSV).
There are two particular Old Testament prophecies that are used by Christians to claim that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. The Key Old Testament texts within the Passion Narrative are Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. Pope Benedict XVI writes, “A great many Old Testament allusions are woven into the Passion narrative. Two of them are of fundamental significance, because they span, as it were, the whole of the Passion event and shed light upon it theologically: Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Vol. 2, p.204.)”
There have been Messiah figures before and after Jesus; however, when they died or were executed their disciples disbanded for the next figure to appear. The Messiah was supposed to restore the glory of the Kingdom of Israel and Jesus’ death was a mockery—a stumbling block for the Jews, as St. Paul expresses here. Furthermore, The pagans would see that a God who dies is no God at all, it would be folly to them.”
So, these particular passages that have been put into the Gospel accounts in reference to the Passion have to be read in hindsight of the glorification of Christ, Jesus. If Christ remains in his tomb then these passages would really be meaningless, so the issue becomes a secondary issue in dialogue with skeptics. The primary issue as always been the Resurrection. Jesus says, An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Mt 12:38–40 RSV).
The ultimate sign to the truth of the Gospel is and always has been the resurrection without it Jesus would be another failed Messiah figure. St. Paul explains this further in his First Letter to the Corinthians:
13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;14 If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. ( 1 Cor. 15:13–17 RSV).