Old Testament Prophecy that Jesus came to save the lost

Old Testament Prophecy that Jesus came to save the lost. Most Christians hopefully know Jesus came to save the lost. But if you’re Christian, ask yourself, do you know of any Old Testament prophecy about Messiah coming to save the lost? Or do you only know it by New Testament verses?

Old Testament Prophecy that Jesus came to save the lost is article #6 in the series: Advent. Click button to view titles for entire series
Jesus came to save the lost

To be sure, even the Nelsons Topical Index we’re using for this series has a New Testament reference verse. And once again, I find this unacceptable. I want Old Testament verses for this series. Why? Because the first Advent was a period of people before Jesus was born waiting for His birth. As such, that means, to me at least, we need prophecies far enough before Jesus’ birth that they’re really prophecy and not announcements.

And so, once again, we need to find some Old Testament verses, based on the Nelson’s reference verse.

By the way, I didn’t try to solve that maze in the image. Hopefully it’s really valid. (I made the image larger than I usually do if you want to try. Good luck if you’re on a cell phone though.) But even if it isn’t, Jesus will save all the lost who really mean it when they promise to accept Him as their (our) Lord and savior.

New Testament reference verse for Jesus came to save the lost

Here we go. Our Nelson’s Topical Index reference verse is an interesting one. It’s Matthew 18:11. If you have a 1984 NIV Bible, check it out. I know it’s a bit old, but it’s very popular and lots of people probably have one. But that particular verse isn’t in it!

If you’ve got a 2010 NIV Bible, you may find:

Some manuscripts include here the words of Luke 19:10. [1]The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Interesting, isn’t it?  But it’s even more weird than it already seems!

Luke 19:10 says – “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Obviously, that fits in with our quest to find Prophecy that Jesus came to save the lost. Unfortunately, as pointed out, it’s New Testament.

In order to find a good Old Testament reference, we need to know what “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” means. It sounds obvious. However, we’ve already seen a number of instances in this series where what appears to be obvious isn’t obvious at all. So we’d better try to get to the bottom of this.

Matthew 18:11- Jesus came to save the lost (?)

The question mark in the heading isn’t to question whether or not Jesus came to save the lost. Christians should have no doubt about this. Rather, it’s a question of does that sentence fit in the context of Matthew 18:11? So, here’s the Matthew 18 passage.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep – Matthew

18:12-14 pp — Lk 15:4-7

Mt 18:10 “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

The NIV does not include verse 11.  Those translations that have it use something along the lines of the words below from the AMP.

Mt 18:11 For the Son of man came to save [ from the penalty of eternal death] that which was lost.

Mt 18:12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

Just to be clear. The passage above, as usual for this site, is from the 1984 NIV. But – I added everything that’s underlined. Whenever I use this passage, I always put that in, with the qualifying words in “[]” from the AMP translation. This way, we can see what some translations have.

As you can see in the cross-reference – 18:12-14 pp — Lk 15:4-7 – this same passage is in Luke’s gospel. But guess what? That sentence about Jesus coming to save the lost isn’t in the Luke Passage either! Here it is:

The Parable of the Lost Sheep – Luke

15:4-7 pp — Mt 18:12-14

Lk 15:1 Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Lk 15:3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

See what I mean? Those words aren’t there.

Luke 19:10 – Jesus came to save the lost

Instead, Luke 19:10 is in a very different, but familiar, passage.

Zacchaeus the Tax Collector

Lk 19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

Lk 19:5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

Lk 19:7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ”

Lk 19:8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Lk 19:9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Are you surprised? I was. Especially if saving the lost relates to the little ones from Matthew 18:10. Yes, some commentaries explain how the missing Mt 18:11 goes with verse 10 and not with verses 12-14. And do you know what? It makes sense. Here’s one example;

This parable must be interpreted in its context in order to correctly understand its message. The problem it addresses arose from the preceding instruction on opponents of Christianity causing ‘little ones’ to stumble. Matthew 18:6 defines ‘little ones’ as those who believe in Jesus Christ, so they are saved souls, and v. 14 confirms this.

This parable balances the alarming revelation that Christianity’s opponents will prey on new members of Christ’s flock in order to make them defect. So the problem this parable addresses is what will happen to those believers who stumble and stray from Christianity.  [2]Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 18:12–14). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.

Now, if we go with an assumption that someone – Matthew or someone else – included For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost to go with the latter verses in Matthew’s gospel, it fits. You may not be happy with the “someone else”. To that end, I went back to a couple of the older Bibles I have – the 1890 Darby Bible and the 1862 Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible. Both of them include Matthew 18:11.

Who really knows for sure, other than God, but sometimes I wonder if “scholars” don’t overthink and overanalyze things to the point where verses, meanings, and even who said what get modified because of modern analysis of grammar, writing style, and the like.

Anyway – the point is, the idea of For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost certainly does fit in with both the lost sheep and with Zacchaeus. Why? Because Zacchaeus is but one example of a lost sheep who was found by Jesus and was saved.

On top of that, we have the issue of Christians who give in to temptation and fall away. Then we pick up the second portion of the excerpt above: This parable balances the alarming revelation that Christianity’s opponents will prey on new members of Christ’s flock in order to make them defect. So the problem this parable addresses is what will happen to those believers who stumble and stray from Christianity.

So it does all work. Matthew 18:11 is a good verse to show Jesus came to save the lost. The lost who haven’t yet been found/saved. And those who were found but strayed and need to be brought back into the fold. Having said that though, only those who actually want to be brought back. Jesus never forced anyone to be “saved”. After all – we can’t force anyone to love God. That’s not real love. That’s just words that mean nothing.

So – with that in mind, we should have no problem getting verses from the Old Testament to see where God expressed this concept to His people.

Old Testament Prophecy that Jesus came to save the lost

Having just said there should be no problems with Old Testament references, I next came across this:

In regards to Matthew 15:21–18:14:

Here appears the longest stretch of text in Matthew without any formal quotations of the OT.  [3]Blomberg, C. L. (2007). Matthew. In Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (p. 54). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.  That includes our few short verses in the Parable of the Lost Sheep.

No worries though. While there aren’t direct references to specific verses, the concepts are definitely there. So – let’s proceed. We’ll use the same reference source that the excerpt above is from: Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament.

Isaiah – Jesus came to save the lost from stumbling blocks

Matthew 18 forms another discourse of Christ. In 18:6 Jesus reuses the “stumbling block” imagery of Isa. 8:14.

Before we look at this passage from Isaiah, its location within the book is interesting. And telling. It’s sandwiched between two passages the NIV titles (1) Assyria, the LORD’S Instrument and (2) To Us a Child Is Born. That means it’s between Assyria defeating Israel and Jesus coming to save us – at least those who want to be saved through Him. It’s a perfect placement for something on the first Advent.

Fear God

Before we get into details, it’s important to understand the meaning of “Fear God” within the context of the Bible. It’s not necessarily about literal fear. For those that love God – it’s about a feeling of intense awe. For those who reject God, yes, there is something to fear. For more on the concept, please check out Do you fear God?

Isa 8:11 The LORD spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said:

Right off, we have an example of what “Fear God” means. Isaiah isn’t literally afraid of God. Rather, he has awe, respect, trust, love, and other emotions along those lines. Enough so that he’s one of the great prophets in the Bible.

What follows from verses 12 to 15 is directly from God.

Isa 8:12 “Do not call conspiracy
everything that these people call conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
and do not dread it.

This verse also speaks to fear. What we really should fear and why we should put our trust in God. Here are two passages that show this which also give us present-day scenarios we can relate to.

First, from the New Testament. Since the passage is very long, I include only the relevant portion, with the specific verse underlined.

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve – Matthew

10:2-4 pp — Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:14-16; Ac 1:13
10:9-15 pp — Mk 6:8-11; Lk 9:3-5; 10:4-12
10:19-22 pp — Mk 13:11-13; Lk 21:12-17
10:26-33 pp — Lk 12:2-9
10:34, 35 pp — Lk 12:51-53

Mt 10:1 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

Mt 10:2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Mt 10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10 take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.

Mt 10:11 “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Mt 10:17 “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Mt 10:26 “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Don’t be afraid of what men can do to you. Rather be afraid of what God can do to you. However, that’s a comparison, not an absolute statement. All those emotions we saw earlier, like love, trust, awe, Etc. should be for God and not for men. That way, we have no one to fear at all.

Now, for an example of that from the Old Testament, let’s look at another passage from Isaiah. This one’s really long, so only the relevant portions are below.

Woe to the Obstinate Nation

Isa 30:1 “Woe to the obstinate children,”
declares the LORD,
“to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
heaping sin upon sin;

Isa 30:2 who go down to Egypt
without consulting me;
who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection,
to Egypt’s shade for refuge.

Isa 30:3 But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame,
Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace.

We can certainly choose to do our own thing. Maybe we consult with God, but don’t like the answer. So we do what we wanted to do anyway. Or maybe we thought we consulted with God, but we were too focused on our own desires and didn’t actually pay close enough attention to realize we heard ourselves. In other words, we didn’t listen closely enough to identify the “voice” of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, there’s always the possibility we didn’t even take the time to go through the motions of consulting without God.

So we’ve got prayer as a one-way conversation, rather than two-way. This can happen for various reasons. Or, we skip prayer entirely and just jump into action on our own. Either way, what we thought was going to be good will be anything but good.

Isa 30:8 Go now, write it on a tablet for them,
inscribe it on a scroll,
that for the days to come
it may be an everlasting witness.

Isa 30:9 These are rebellious people, deceitful children,
children unwilling to listen to the LORD’S instruction.

Isa 30:10 They say to the seers,
“See no more visions !”
and to the prophets,
“Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
prophesy illusions.

So God tells Isaiah to write something down for the people. God calls the ones who don’t listen to Him rebellious and deceitful. Unwilling to listen to Him. Unwillingness is what we just looked at above. Whether it be prayer not done in the heart or just plain no prayer, it’s all unwillingness to listen to God.

Instead, we only want to hear the things we like. And if we like what we hear, we’ve got a tendency to say it’s from God. Even if it isn’t, we still say it is.

And while we don’t get “Prophecy” per se, we do get promises from people like political leaders, and we claim they are from God. But they aren’t. And as we saw above, the very things we think will “save” us are the things that end up bringing us to ruin. While we’re on the topic, it’s also true that the very people we think will “save” is/are also the ones that bring us to ruin.

Isa 30:12 Therefore, this is what the Holy One of Israel says:
“Because you have rejected this message,
relied on oppression
and depended on deceit,

Isa 30:13 this sin will become for you
like a high wall, cracked and bulging,
that collapses suddenly, in an instant.

Isa 30:14 It will break in pieces like pottery,
shattered so mercilessly
that among its pieces not a fragment will be found
for taking coals from a hearth
or scooping water out of a cistern.”

Once again – when we trust in someone or something other than God, that will be our downfall. A huge part of the problem, even today, is that we do the same thing God’s people did back in Isaiah’s time. They looked to Assyria for what they wanted. Assyria ended up defeating them. Today, we do things like look to political leaders. But those leaders take us further and further from God, not closer like we think.

However, it doesn’t need to stay that way. That’s part of what Advent is about. Getting us back with God. As in the next portion of Isaiah’s Woe to the Obstinate Nation.

Back to Isaiah chapter 8 – Jesus came to save the lost from stumbling blocks

We’ve looked at “Fear God”. What it means. Why or why not we should fear God. So now let’s return to the concept of stumbling blocks.

Isa 8:13 The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread,

Isa 8:14 and he will be a sanctuary;
but for both houses of Israel he will be
a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
a trap and a snare.

We’re back to the idea of literally fearing God. But, remember that this is prophecy. Both houses of Israel, Israel and Judah, are in a position where they should fear God. They are so far from God. And there’s going to be a price to be paid. But that “price” is also the reason they should return to God. And it comes with an invitation to do just that. We see that thought with God as both someone to dread and to be a sanctuary.

We should pay attention to the following portion:

but for both houses of Israel he will be
a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
a trap and a snare.

This is the kind of thing that people tend to misunderstand. It gets pulled out with no context. And we think God’s out there just waiting to catch us and punish us. In a word, that God is mean. But again, remember that this is prophecy. And remember that this is after years and years of God’s chosen people turning away from Him. Disobeying Him. And ignoring Him.

If you’d like to read a simple comparison between God being loving or out to get us, I recommend that you check out Is God Loving – or Angry?

Isa 8:15 Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured.”

Now we see that many will stumble. Not all. yes, there are stumbling blocks. But what we learn, seemingly more clearly in the New Testament than in the Old, is that God does allow things to happen. But He does not do evil.

And we must consider that God’s justice is not evil. It’s a just price to pay for the things we’ve done. This is more clear in the New Testament as well. But at the same time, it’s why Jewish people waited for Messiah. And that waiting is the very thing we’re looking into. The First Advent.

It’s our choice how to respond to the things that happen in this life. It’s also our choice how to respond to God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. Just as it’s our choice whether or not to celebrate the First Advent. Or to wait during the Second Advent period, which is right now.

Isa 8:16 Bind up the testimony
and seal up the law among my disciples.

Isa 8:17 I will wait for the LORD,
who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob.
I will put my trust in him.

Isa 8:18 Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.

Isa 8:19 When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.

I found an interesting summary of this Isaiah passage. It ties together the first portion with the section immediately above. Ultimately, it gets us back to the fact that Jesus did come to save the lost, but we have the right to accept Jesus or not.

Isa 8:16–22 As you make decisions and strategize plans, you’ll do well to gain counsel from wise, trusted confidants. In fact, Proverbs says that utilizing input from many counselors offers safety (Prov. 11:14). Their variety of opinions tends to ensure success (15:22; 20:18; 24:6).

The people of Isaiah’s day could have benefited by heeding wise counsel, but they had a hard time distinguishing good counsel from bad. So Isaiah contrasted the two. Reliable counsel …

      • listens carefully to God (Is. 8:11);
      • is not quick to identify “conspiracies” (8:12);
      • avoids acting solely out of fear (8:12); and
      • praises and respects the Lord (8:13).

Unreliable counsel …

      • ignores God’s law and testimony (8:19–20);
      • allows anger to distort things (8:21); and
      • leads to trouble and anguish (8:22).  [4]Word in life study Bible. (1996). (electronic ed., Is 8:16). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Of course, the question for us is – who are we listening to? And are our trusted sources of counsel following a Biblical path? It reminds me of an old Bumper Sticker saying that I totally disagree with – Jesus is my co-pilot. I’ll tell you something. If Jesus is our co-pilot, we’ve got a problem. Jesus should be the Pilot! For a deeper look behind that thought, please see Jesus is my co-pilot?

Returning to Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (finally!?)

OK – we’re back to the very first source of info from the Old Testament prophecy that Jesus came to save the lost. In case you forgot what it was –

Matthew 18 forms another discourse of Christ. In 18:6 Jesus reuses the “stumbling block” imagery of Isa. 8:14.

The next portion is:

The parable of the lost sheep (18:10–14) calls to mind a variety of OT texts, including Ps. 23 (on Ps. 23 as background, see K. E. Bailey 1992: 194–212), but also the comparison between Israel’s false shepherds and the coming messianic shepherd in Ezek. 34 (W. G. Thompson 1970: 160).

The false shepherds were a problem in the Old Testament. An equivalent today might be those who we go to for counsel that do not follow God, and yet tell us that they do. As we know, the true Christian does know Jesus’ voice / the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. But, do we pay enough attention to really be certain?

Of course, the 23rd Psalm reference is the verses underlined below.

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

Ps 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

Ps 23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

Ps 23:3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Ps 23:4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Ps 23:5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Ps 23:6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

What we see in there is like what we read above. The shepherd’s rod and staff might be either comforting or something to fear. We, of course, are the sheep, as we know from Jesus’ frequent references to Him as the Shepherd and us as the flock.

For the true Christian, the rod and staff are comforting. The rod can keep us from going places we shouldn’t go. The staff can rescue us from places we shouldn’t have gone, but went anyway.

On the other hand, the staff and especially the rod are weapons to use against the wolves. Those who try to attack us.

Conclusion – Old Testament Prophecy that Jesus came to save the lost

After all that, we’ve seen throughout that the Old Testament really does have prophecy that points to:

Lk 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

And we’ve seen that the passage which includes the sometimes missing Matthew 18:11 really does work when “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” is included.

Furthermore, we’ve seen that even though Jesus did come to save the lost, there are some potential issues. For instance, we have the God-given right to refuse His gift of salvation through Jesus. Whether that refusal is the result of false counsel, not praying from the heart, not taking time to listen for God’s reply, not listening closely enough to know if we’re actually hearing God’s voice or maybe it’s ours, it’s a refusal nonetheless.

There’s also the possibility that we’re going to do our own thing. Maybe we pray and don’t like the answer. Maybe we don’t even bother to pray.

And then there’s one thing we haven’t addressed directly. But maybe you’ve noticed it in the background. We’re so engrossed in ourselves that we don’t even know we’re lost! I often wonder, can we even be saved if we don’t know we’re lost?

The next segment in our series on Advent, specifically the First Advent is Old Testament prophecy: Was Jesus subject to the government?. Hope to see you there.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay


1 The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
2 Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 18:12–14). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.
3 Blomberg, C. L. (2007). Matthew. In Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (p. 54). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.
4 Word in life study Bible. (1996). (electronic ed., Is 8:16). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

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