The verb fulfill is used in three senses that merit special attention: an ethical sense of observing or meeting requirements; a prophetic sense of corresponding to what was promised, predicted, or foreshadowed; and a temporal sense related to the arrival of times ordained by God. The ethical sense of fulfill appears in the Old Testament only in connection with meeting the requirements of a vow (Leviticus 22:21;
Numbers 15:3), never in connection with the law. In the New Testament Jesus submitted to John's baptism, identifying Himself with sinful people, in order “to fulfill all righteous” (Matthew 3:15), that is, to meet God's expectation for His life. Jesus described His mission not as coming “to abolish the law or the prophets” but “to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). The New Testament repeatedly speaks of love as the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:8-10;
Fulfill is most common in Scripture in the prophetic sense of corresponding to what was promised, predicted, or foreshadowed. The fulfillment of prophecy in the life of Jesus is a major theme in Matthew's Gospel. Isaiah's prophecy (Isaiah 7:4) found fulfillment not only in Christ's virgin birth but also in His nature as “God with us” (Matthew 1:22-23; compare
Matthew 28:20). Jesus' ministry in both word (Matthew 4:14-17) and deed (Matthew 8:16-17) fulfilled Scripture (Isaiah 9:1-2;
Isaiah 53:4). Jesus' command of secrecy (Matthew 12:16) and His habit of teaching in parables (Matthew 13:35) likewise fulfilled Scripture (Isaiah 42:1-3;
Psalms 78:2), as did His humble entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:4-5;
Zechariah 9:9) and His arrest as a bandit (Matthew 26:56). At several points Jesus' life story gave new meaning to the history of Israel. Like Israel, Jesus was God's Son called out of Egypt (Matthew 2:15;
Hosea 11:1). The suffering of Israel's mothers (Jeremiah 31:15) was echoed by the mothers of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:17-18). Both foreshadowed the fate of the Christ child who was spared only to die at a later time.
Luke and Acts are especially interested in Christ's suffering and later glorification as the fulfillment of the expectations of all the Old Testament, the law, prophets, and writings (Luke 24:25-26,Luke 24:44-47;
Acts 13:27-41) Jesus interpreted His journey to Jerusalem as a second “exodus” (Luke 9:31), an event that would result in freedom for God's people.
In John the failure of the people to recognize God at work in Jesus' signs or to accept Jesus' testimony was explained as fulfillment of Scripture (John 12:37-41; compare
Mark 4:11-12). John also viewed details of the passion story as the fulfillment of Scripture (John 19:24,John 19:28;
Psalms 69:21). Typological fulfillment in which Jesus corresponded to Old Testament institutions is more common than correspondence to prehydichytive prophecy. Jesus was “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), likely a reference to the Passover lamb (John 19:14). Like Bethel (Genesis 28:12) Jesus offered access between heaven and earth (John 1:51). At Cana Jesus' gift of wine corresponded to the blessings of God's future (John 2:1-11;
Zechariah 9:17). Jesus' body which was to be destroyed and raised was identified with the Temple (John 2:19,John 2:21). In His being lifted up on the cross (John 3:14), Christ corresponded to the serpent Moses raised in the wilderness (Numbers 21:9). In the same way, Christ in giving His life corresponded to the life-giving manna from heaven (John 6:31-32;
Exodus 16:15). Often, time references in the Gospel of John suggest that Jesus gave new meaning to the celebrations of Israel (Passover,
John 11:55; Booths,
John 7:10; Dedication,
Paul spoke of Christ as the One in whom “every one of God's promises is a “yes” (2 Corinthians 1:20 NRSV). Like John, Paul made frequent use of typology. Christ was foreshadowed by Adam (Romans 5:12-21;
1 Corinthians 15:22,1 Corinthians 15:45-49), by the rock in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4), and by the Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Temporal phrases such as “the time is fulfilled” point to times ordained by God, for example, the time of Christ's ministry (Mark 1:15;
Ephesians 1:10), the time of Gentile domination of Israel (Luke 21:24), or the time of the appearance of the lawless one (2 Thessalonians 2:6).