Anyone who has read the New Testament (NT) has read these words several times: “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet...” This phrase, or a variation of it, is used throughout the NT gospels; most frequently in the Gospel according to Matthew. Every Christian believes in the inspiration of Holy Scripture, but if you are like me, you have wondered why the gospel writers alluded to a particular Old Testament (OT) passage, and referred to it as a fulfillment. One particular passage I found difficult was Matthew 2:13-15, which reads:
13. Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.”
14. He arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt, 15. and was there until the death of Herod; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
What puzzled me was Matthew's reasoning behind quoting Hosea 11:1, in which the Lord's departure from Israel to Egypt is said to be a fulfillment. The passage from Hosea in its immediate context is about the Lords fatherly love for Israel as He led them out of bondage from Egypt. His love is expressed in Hosea in these words, “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim* to walk, but they did not know I healed them. I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love” (Hosea 11:3-4). The Old Testament describes God's love for His covenant people many times. Yet it was not clear to me how that quote could have applied to Christ. Given God's inspiration of scripture, I knew there was a valid reason why Matthew used the Hosea passage, so I began a study to find out why.
While searching several Bible commentaries and encyclopedias, I found this quote from author F. F. Bruce concerning Matthew's aim in writing his Gospel:
...the Evangelist is also at pains to show how the story of Jesus represents the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, and in places he even implies that the experiences of Jesus recapitulate the experiences of the people of Israel in Old Testament times. Thus, just as the children of Israel went down into Egypt in their national infancy and came out of it at the Exodus, so Jesus in His infancy must also go down to Egypt and come out of it, that the words spoken of them in Hosea xi. So it might be fulfilled in His experience too. Out of Egypt have I called my son' (Mt. ii. 15).1
I believe there are a few implications to Bruce's assertion: The Gospel of Matthew's repeated use of "fulfillment" indicates the author's understanding of OT history, and his desire to clarify history through the life and ministry of Jesus. Furthermore, the Gospel’s writers, especially Matthew, sought to prove Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of not only the law and the prophets, but he proved national Israel to had been an OT type of Jesus Christ; the One who fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).
Matthew's Gospel gives us to plenty explore. It is my goal every month to explore and expound on all “fulfillment” verses found in the book of Matthew. I believe this is a very interesting study. I hope that you find it interesting as well.
1 The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable, Grand Rapid: Eerdmans, 1960, p.41