The four prophecies of the Chapel of the Crucifixion of the Holy Sepulchre

In this article, the four biblical prophecies about the Messiah depicted on the ceiling of the Chapel of the Crucifixion of the Holy Sepulcher are analyzed: Daniel 9:26; Isaiah 53:7-9; Psalm 22; and Zechariah 12:10.

Rafael Sanz Carrera-March 29, 2024-Reading time: 7 minutes

Image of the ceiling of the Chapel of the Crucifixion of the Holy Sepulcher with the four prophecies.

Years ago I had the good fortune to visit the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Upon entering, after turning slightly to the left, we find a steep staircase that leads us to Calvary where, according to tradition, the crucifixion took place. There, on one side, we find a Catholic chapel and if we look at the ceiling we discover a mosaic where four prophecies that speak of the Passion of the Messiah are drawn: Daniel 9:26; Isaiah 53:7-9; Psalm 22; and Zechariah 12:10. Even now it is exciting to reread these texts and meditate on them, looking at the place where the Cross of our Redeemer was raised. Therefore, in this time of Holy Week, it is worthwhile to take a brief tour through these four prophecies.

Daniel 9:26

We begin with the later prophecy (2nd century B.C.) which predicts the precise moment in which the events would unfold. It is Daniel 9:26: "After sixty-two weeks, they will kill an innocent anointed one. A prince will come with his army and raze the city and the temple to the ground, but its end will be a cataclysm; war and destruction are decreed until the end.

The appearance of the Messiah and Jesus coincides: "After threescore and two weeks...".

A fairly common interpretation holds that "the sixty-two weeks can be added to the seven weeks of verse 25 of Daniel 9", resulting in a total of sixty-nine weeks (69 x 7 = 483 years). If these years are added to the date of Artaxerxes' decree in Nehemiah 2:1-20, the end of the sixty-nine weeks would roughly coincide with the date of Jesus' crucifixion.

The verse affirms the death of the Messiah: "they will kill an innocent anointed one"... The Hebrew word translated as "Anointed One" is "Mashiach", meaning Messiah. It speaks of the Messiah's destiny: they will kill him... So the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ would be its fulfillment (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19).

In other translations it is added: "And he will have nothing" (cf. Lk 9:57-62). Because he has nothing, he does not even have a tomb in which to be buried (Jn 19:41-42).

The verse goes on to describe the consequences of the Messiah's death: "A prince will come with his troops and raze to the ground the city and the temple...". According to which, both the city and the sanctuary would be destroyed. In a historical context, this could refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70 by Roman forces.

The passage ends with an apocalyptic description: "But its end will be a cataclysm; war and destruction are decreed to the end...". Some interpret that the destruction of the Temple would also be symbolic of the end of the sacrificial system and the priestly mediation of Judaism, which would be replaced by the perfect and eternal sacrifice of Christ.

Isaiah 53:7-9

We continue with the prophecy of Isaiah 53 where we discover the inner world of the Messiah, and more specifically the free atoning will of his surrender: "He was mistreated, he willingly humbled himself and opened not his mouth: like a lamb led to the slaughter, like a sheep before the shearer, he was dumb and opened not his mouth. Without defense, without justice, they took him away, who will care for his lineage? They plucked him from the land of the living, for the sins of my people they wounded him. They gave him a burial with the wicked and a grave with evildoers, though he had committed no crime and there was no deceit in his mouth" (Isaiah 53:7-9).

A suffering without resistance: "Mistreated, he voluntarily humbled himself and did not open his mouth: like a lamb led to the slaughter, like a sheep before the shearer, he was mute and did not open his mouth...".

This image of meekness and patience in the midst of suffering is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who, during his trial and crucifixion, did not defend himself, but endured suffering in silence (Matthew 27:12-14, Mark 14:61, Luke 23:9).

The passage compares the Suffering Servant to a "lamb led to the slaughter and a sheep before its shearers," which finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who is described as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29 and 1 Peter 1:18-19).

Explicit reference is made to this verse during Jesus' trial in Matthew 26:63; 27:12-14; Mark 14:61 and 15:5; Luke 23:9; John 19:9; 1 Peter 2:23.

His unjust death and his burial with the wicked and the rich is described: "Without defense, without justice, they took him away, who will care for his lineage? They plucked him from the land of the living, for the sins of my people they smote him. They gave him a burial with the wicked and a grave with the evildoers (but with the rich he went in his death)":

Indeed, he was unjustly put to death and his tomb was designated with the wicked, although he would eventually be buried with the rich. This fulfillment is found in Jesus Christ, whose death on the cross was an injustice, and "They gave him burial with the wicked", and although he was to be buried among the wicked, according to some translations "he was buried with the rich at his death...": he was finally buried in a new tomb, which belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man and secret disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:57-60, Mark 15:43-46, John 19:38-42).

At the end of the verse it is said that "they plucked him out of the land of the living", that is, in full youth, he was cut off in the prime of his life.

And it is added: "For the sins of my people they smote him...". A powerful idea of the atoning character of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, his suffering without resistance, was the manifestation of a redemptive free will (cf. vs 10-12 further develop this idea).

His innocence and absence of deceit also appear: "Although he had committed no crime, neither was there any deceit in his mouth". This is perfectly fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who lived a sinless life and was declared innocent by Pilate even when condemned to death (John 18:38, Hebrews 4:15; explicitly in 1 Peter 2:22).

Psalm 22

The Gospels record Jesus' words in Greek, the common language of the region, even though he primarily spoke Aramaic. There are few exceptions, the most notable being this phrase from the cross: "'Eloi Eloi, lema sabachthani' (which translates as 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me')" (Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46). Why did the evangelists choose to keep this phrase in its original language? This is because it is the beginning of Psalm 22, as its title indicates, and when translating the title of a song, it would be difficult to identify it. The evangelists wanted the readers to recognize it in order to understand that Jesus was pointing out that what was happening had been prophesied there.

Psalm 22 was most probably written by David 1000 years before Christ and it seems as if he "lived" what Jesus was going to suffer. For example, we see the following:

-In the psalm his first words are: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?", which are also the first words pronounced by Jesus from the cross according to Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34.

-Thus Jesus implies that all that is happening is the fulfillment of the Psalm: "The chief priests commented among themselves, mocking: 'He has saved others, and himself he cannot save'" (Mark 15:31) and also "he trusted in God, who delivers him if he loves him" (Matthew 27:43), and in the Psalm we read: "I am a worm, not a man, the shame of the people, the contempt of the people; when they see me, they mock me, they make faces, they shake their heads: 'He has come to the Lord, let him deliver him; let him deliver him if he loves him so much'" (Psalm 22:7-9), and also, "They look on me in triumph" (Psalm 22:18).

The psalm announced the crucifixion saying: "They pierce my hands and my feet" (Psalm 22, 17). This is confirmed by John 20:25: "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, unless I put my finger into the nail holes and put my hand into his side, I do not believe it".

And he even predicted what the soldiers did: "They divide my garment, they cast lots for my tunic" (Psalm 22:19), an event that was also fulfilled at the crucifixion according to Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34 and John 19:23-24.

We know that during the crucifixion, the executioners forced the bones of his arms out of joint so that he would keep his arms extended; moreover, the heart was losing its strength without being able to transmit it to the rest of the body; and the loss of blood made him very thirsty. Well, all this is expressed in the psalm: "I am like water poured out, my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it melts in my bowels; my throat is dry as a tile, my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you press me to the dust of death" (Psalm 22:15-16). And, finally, they broke the legs of the two thieves, but he was already dead and they again fulfilled the psalm: "I can count my bones" (Ps 21(22), 18).

Finally, despite the suffering and anguish described in the psalm, the psalmist expresses confidence in the salvation that will come from God (verses 19-21). This confidence is similar to Jesus' trust in God the Father even in the midst of his suffering (Lk 23:46: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit").

Zechariah 12:10

Finally, we find the prophecy of Zechariah (6th century B.C.), where the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the recognition of the one who was pierced and the lament over him, are aligned with the events of the crucifixion and the work of redemption accomplished in Jesus Christ.

Thus says Zechariah 12:10: "I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of forgiveness and prayer, and they will turn their eyes to me whom they have pierced. They will mourn for him as for an only son, they will mourn for him as one mourns for the firstborn".

Let us see how this passage can be interpreted in messianic terms:

-I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of forgiveness and prayer...". The first part of the verse speaks of the outpouring of the Spirit of grace and prayer upon the House of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

-This can be understood as a reference to the fulfillment of God's promise to send the Holy Spirit, which materialized on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus' disciples (Acts 2:1-4; cf. John 20:22-23).

-And they shall turn their eyes unto me, whom they have pierced...": This is the central part of the prophecy and the one that has a clear connection with Jesus Christ.

In the messianic context, this is interpreted as a reference to the crucifixion of Jesus, where he was pierced by the nails in the cross and finally by the spear in the heart (cf. John 19:34-37).

The phrase "they will turn their eyes to me" suggests a retrospective acknowledgment by those who have hurt him.

They will mourn him as an only son, they will mourn him as one mourns the first-born...":

This weeping and mourning is interpreted as a repentance and contrite acknowledgment of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This lament is so great and genuine that it is compared to weeping over an only or firstborn son.

In a way, reference is also made to Mary's suffering in witnessing the death of her beloved son on the Cross: "His mother was standing there" (John 19:25-27).

Taken together, these biblical prophecies offer a profound and poignant insight into the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The experience of meditating on these prophecies while contemplating the physical site of the crucifixion provides a tangible connection between history and the Christian faith.

The authorRafael Sanz Carrera

Doctor of Canon Law

Read more
La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.
Banner advertising
Banner advertising