What Profit in Prophets
Do the Prophecies in the Bible Really Come True?
If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken.
After an event has happened it often seems as if it couldn't have happened in any other way. But sometimes it strikes me how hard it would have been to predict some of the events in recent history a hundred, fifty or even twenty years before the fact. Who could have foretold that a ragtag, disorganized group of British colonists in America would dare to go to war against England and win? Who could have guessed that the atomic bomb would be developed just in time to turn the tide of World War II? Who could have foreseen the sudden collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s? So many variables were at play in these events that a
difference in any one of them could have thrown the outcome in a completely different direction.
Given this, I often am startled by the way some passages in the Bible seem to mention future predictions as casually as I might throw around details about the recent past. "Wait!" I subconsciously find myself wanting to warn the authors. "Don't you know these predictions will be able to be tested?"
Of course if the Bible is written by frauds as many maintain, someone should have given the authors this caution while they were still alive. But if there is an all-knowing God who is behind the writing of the Bible, there is no reason for caution. No risk of being wrong is present for One who knows the future just as surely as the past.
At the mention of Bible prophecy many immediately think of last-days predictions the stuff of end-time movies, prophecy conferences and even sensationalistic preachers who teach the world is going to end every other Monday. But while the Bible does contain many prophecies about the end of time, it also is generously peppered with numerous other long- and short-term predictions, many of which concern events now in the past.
|Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you.... You have heard these things; look at them all. Will you not admit them? ISAIAH 48:5-6|
When I was looking into the claims of Christianity, these prophecies presented another opportunity to test the Bible's trustworthiness. If it can be objectively shown that a specific prediction has passed the point at which it could be fulfilled and has not come true, the Bible itself says this means it is not from God (Deut 18:22). But if it can be demonstrated that the Bible contains numerous specific predictions that have invariably been fulfilled, this yields strong support to the case for its divine inspiration.
Factors Determining the Convincing Value of a Prophecy
the detail it includes
the likelihood of the prophet's being able to guess that the events described would happen
the likelihood that the people who knew of the prophecy would be able to fulfill it themselves
whether the events that fulfilled the prophecy are known outside the Bible
whether it can be established that the prophecy was in fact written before the events happened
In researching Bible prophecy I studied resources from both camps the camp of those who maintain that the Bible contains many indisputable fulfilled prophecies and those who maintain that many biblical prophecies were obviously never fulfilled and that all the apparently fulfilled prophecies can easily be explained in another way. And although I filled more than seventy pages with notes on biblical prophecies, among the more than 8,352 prophetic verses1 in the Bible I never found one specific prophecy that I could conclusively show was false, and I found many that uncannily foretold the outcome of numerous future events.
Do you agree that if the Bible could be shown to contain numerous detailed fulfilled prophecies, this would be evidence for the truth of Christianity? Why or why not?
Israel's Incredible History
Remarkable examples of fulfilled prophecy can be seen in the history of the Jewish people still unfolding even today. Over twenty-five hundred years ago the Bible foretold that the Jewish people would encounter war, captivity and exile and that they would cease to exist as a nation and be scattered throughout the world. But it also claimed that despite all this they would continue to survive as a distinct people group and that one day they would be brought back together as a nation in their own homeland. (See Jer 30:1-11; Ezek 37:21-22; Zeph 3:19-20).
|I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. EZEKIEL 37:21|
Have you ever heard of a modern-day Philistine, Edomite or Moabite? That's because although these represent great nations in Old Testament times, these people groups, as well as scores of others from that time period, no longer exist. But the Jewish people still do exist, against all odds, these thousands of years later, just as the Bible said they would. And they did experience war and captivity, were sent into exile, ceased to be a nation for over eighteen hundred years, and were scattered throughout the world, just as the Bible said
they would be. But in 1948, as a result of a series of incredible events, the nation of Israel was reestablished in its ancient homeland.
The Jewish people have been targeted for extinction numerous times throughout history. Even today Israel is surrounded by nations that would like to see it cease to exist. But as Norman Geisler explains, "No other nation in history has managed so successfully to keep a culture, identity, and language intact over hundreds of years, let alone against the genocidal hatred repeatedly encountered by the Jews."2
How convincing do you find the prophecies about Israel as evidences for the Bible's inspiration?
The Fate of Other Cities and Nations
The Bible also makes numerous predictions about various other people groups and nations. Skeptics argue that some of these prophecies contain so little detail they could be fulfilled in many ways. However, as I worked through them I was struck by the number of predictions involved and the fact that, regardless of the amount of detail, I found none that could be irrefutably proven false. Without fail the cities and nations the Bible says will be destroyed are destroyed in a way that fits the details of the prophecy, and those the Bible says will continue to exist continue just as foretold.
The prophecies against the city of Tyre are good examples. Tyre was the Phoenician capital and a powerful trading city on the east coast of the Mediterranean. Isaiah 23 predicts that Tyre will be destroyed and then rebuilt. Then Ezekiel, written about one hundred years later, adds that many nations will come against Tyre (Ezek 26:3) including the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar (Ezek 26:7). These nations will destroy Tyre, and the rubble of the city will be thrown into the sea, leaving bare rock where fishing nets will be stretched out to dry (Ezek 26:4-5. 12, 14). The passage also foretells that there will come a time when the city of Tyre is no more (Ezek 26:14, 21).
The city of Tyre consisted of a mainland city and an island settlement. Nebuchadnezzar besieged the mainland city in 585 B.C., just as the passage predicts (Ezek 26:8). The city recovered after surrendering to Nebuchadnezzar but was attacked again by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.
Alexander not only attacked the mainland city but also, after destroying it, threw the rubble from it into the sea, just as the prophecy predicted, to build a bridge for his troops to the island settlement. Today only small fishing towns exist near where the great city of Tyre once stood, and some have commented on the ironic fact that the previous location of mainland Tyre is now used to spread fishing nets to dry.
|The larger part of the site of the once great city is now bare as the top of a rock a place where the fishermen that still frequent the spot spread their nets to dry. PHILIP MYERS (historian)3|
Read Ezekiel 26. How accurately do you believe the prophecies recorded here describe the history of Tyre? Explain.
The city of Petra is another example. The Bible accurately predicted the destruction of the Edomite cities of which Petra was foremost (Is 34:11-13; Jer 49:17-18); Ezek 25:13). Despite the fact that Petra was ideally situated in a steep mountain valley, making it almost invincible, the city was conquered and deserted just as predicted. In fact, the area was so completely abandoned that no one even remembered the location of this beautiful city, carved into rose-colored valley walls, until it was rediscovered in 1812.
For hundreds of years the magnificent rock houses and buildings of Petra have stood desolate with only desert animals to inhabit them, just as Isaiah predicted:
Her nobles will have nothing there to be called a kingdom,
all her princes will vanish away.
Thorns will overrun her citadels,
nettles and brambles her strongholds.
She will become a haunt for jackals,
a home for owls. (Is 34:12-13)
This prophecy is especially powerful to me, since I was able to visit the site of ancient Petra a few years ago and experience for myself the vast barrenness of this rock-city that formerly was home to thousands.
The Bible includes accurate prophecies about Ammon, Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Edom, Greece, Moab, Philistia, Phoenicia, Rome, Syria and many other nations.
Do you believe the prophecies concerning these cities and nations support the claim that the Bible is divinely inspired? Why or why not?
The Prophecies of Daniel
Even skeptics admit that if the prophecies in Daniel were actually written around 530 B.C. as the Bible claims, they would indeed be examples of amazing predictive prophecy. Daniel accurately predicts
over six hundred years of world history
the rise to power of the Medes and the Persians, Greece and Rome (chapters 7-8)
the division of Greece into four kingdoms that occurred in 323 B.C. (Daniel 8:21-22)
a detailed history of the political intrigues, wars and treaties occurring between 530 and 160 B.C.
the time in which Jesus would live (Dan 9:25)
Jesus' death (Dan 9:26)
the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred in A.D. 70 (Dan 9:26)
the desecration of the temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes that occurred 168 B.C. (Dan 11:31)
In fact, Daniel's prophecies so accurately describe future events, and especially those occurring between 530 and 167 B.C., that skeptics maintain they were not written in 530 at all but instead are forgeries written around 167, masquerading historic facts as prophetic predictions.
Read chapters 7, 8 and 11 of Daniel in a Bible with good study notes. Do you think that if these chapters were actually written in 530 B.C., they would be evidence of the Bible's supernatural origin? Why or why not?
When I first began studying Daniel, I was surprised both by the detail of Daniel's prophecies and by the number of people who hold the late date theory, speaking of it as if it were an established fact. How could so many
accept this theory if it weren't true? I wondered. I was almost afraid to begin looking into the question. Many of my other investigations had seemed to point to the truth of the Bible; would this undermine them? But when I examined the evidence for both sides, I found that the late date theory is not as well established as is commonly assumed, and much evidence actually supports the traditional view.
Both sides recognize that irrefutable evidence points to the existence of the book of Daniel by the middle of the second century B.C. This is why no one claims Daniel was written later than 167 B.C., but even this late date doesn't account for all the fulfilled prophecies in Daniel, some of which were not fulfilled until A.D. 70 (Dan 9:24-26).
To avoid some of the later fulfilled prophecies, skeptics have to maintain that the author of Daniel mistakenly regarded the Medes and the Persians as two distinct empires, making the second and third kingdoms in chapters 2 and 7 represent the Medes and Persians and the last represent Greece, not Rome. But the text indicates that the author viewed the Medes and Persians as one empire (Dan 5:28), as in fact they were. And the symbolism associated with the fourth kingdom seems to point to Rome, not Greece (Dan 2:33; 7:7, 19).
Skeptics assert that since Aramaic didn't replace Hebrew as the language spoken by Jews until much after 530 B.C., the fact that much of Daniel is written in Aramaic reveals it is a forgery. But Aramaic is known to have been spoken in Babylon in 530, and it stands to reason that a Jewish captive living, studying and working in Babylon would also speak Aramaic. Additionally E. Y. Kutscher, a leading Aramaic specialist, had demonstrated that the Aramaic in Daniel is Eastern Aramaic, rather than Western as the late date would require.4
Language evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrates that the Hebrew and Aramaic of Daniel are from centuries before the time the late date theory would allow.5
Skeptics point to the existence of Greek and Persian loan words in the text to support the late date. But only fifteen words of probable Persian influence are used, and since Daniel did serve in the Persian government for several years, his use of such words is understandable. Only three Greek words are used, all names of musical instruments that could have well
preceded the 530 date.6
Some historical assertions in Daniel have been called into question. But Daniel's accuracy in naming Belshazzar as the last king of Babylon was also ridiculed by Bible critics in previous years, until a new archaeological finding revealed that it was modern historians, not Daniel, who were incorrect. And not only have plausible explanations been offered for all alleged historical inaccuracies in Daniel, but also Daniel includes many unquestionably accurate historical facts, difficult to explain if Daniel were written six hundred years after the events it describes.7
What is your response to the debate over when Daniel was written?
Do you think the prophecies of Daniel provide confirmation of the supernatural origin of the Bible? Why or why not?
A golden strand of hope concerning a future promised son is intricately woven throughout the entire Old Testament. The prophecies concerning this promise begin in broad strokes (Gen 12:3; 49:10), but with each additional revelation the picture becomes more detailed. He will be from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:10), a descendant of David (Jer 23:5), born in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2), bringing light to Galilee (Is 9:1-2).
Christians believe these messianic prophecies have been supernaturally fulfilled in the life of Jesus and their existence stands as a powerful confirmation of the validity of the Christian faith. But even a casual reading of the New Testament reveals that the Jewish scholars of Jesus' day did not see any evidence of supernatural fulfillment in the events surrounding Jesus' life and that even Jesus' own disciples were often hopelessly confused.
That made me wonder, why, if the Old Testament tells as clearly about Jesus' life and death as Christians say it does, did the Jews especially Jesus' own disciples have such trouble recognizing him? Why were they looking for a triumphant military leader rather than a suffering servant? Are the facts of Jesus' life really plainly foretold in the Old Testament, or did Christians just overlay their own beliefs on select texts to force them to say something they do not? To answer these questions, I shut myself away in
our guest bedroom one afternoon and began working through the messianic prophecies one by one to see how clearly the picture really points to Jesus.
By the time I was finished, I was elated, and I couldn't wait to tell somebody about what I had found. I was amazed at the detailed portrait of Jesus I read in books written hundreds of years before his birth including a startling summary of the New Testament plan of salvation, even for Gentiles, and a declaration of the deity and resurrection of Christ. I could think of no natural explanation for these in light of Israel's extreme nationalism, monotheism and loyalty to the old covenant. If the disciples were looking only for a triumphant military leader, it must have been their nationalistic hopes that blinded them to the full implications of these passages although the prophecies include much talk about how the messiah will bring peace and victory to Israel, they also contain much more.
Job 16:19-21; 19:25-27
He will be an intercessor and mediator for humankind
He will be a redeemer who will give a ransom for our sins.
He will return to earth in the end times.
He will bring honor to Galilee
He will be a gift from God born to Israel.
He will bring rejoicing, victory and peace.
This man will be rightly called "Mighty God."
He will reign on David's throne forever with justice and righteousness.
He will not just benefit Israel but will also be a light to the Gentiles.
He will be meek and gentle.
A new covenant based on him will bring relief from darkness.
He will be despised and abhorred by the nations before he is recognized.
He will restore Israel.
He will become a light for the Gentiles and bring salvation to the ends of the earth.
Isaiah 52:13 53:12
His appearance will be disfigured and marred, and he will appall many.
He will cleanse many nations, and kings will be overcome because of him.
He will have no beauty or majesty to attract people.
He will be despised and rejected.
He will take up our sins and our sorrows, but we will think he is being punished by God.
He will be pierced for our sins, and his wounds will heal us.
He will not defend himself.
He will die before he has descendants.
He will be buried with the wicked and rich, though he is innocent of all wrong.
He will have life after his death.
By the knowledge of him many will be justified.
|Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.... He was pierced for our transgressions... and by his wounds we are healed.... The LORD had laid on him the iniquity of us all.... For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death.... After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. ISAIAH 53:4-11|
He will come from Bethlehem.
He preexisted in ancient times.
He will rule in strength and majesty.
He will appear suddenly after a messenger has prepared the way.
His coming will be like a refining fire.
The Time of the Messiah
Daniel 9:24-26 is the only Old Testament passage that pinpoints the exact time when the Messiah would come. It can seem confusing with all its "sevens," but it is definitely worth taking the time to understand. The sevens in this passage are generally understood to refer to sets of seven years. That means seventy sevens would be 490 years. Take a minute and note the six specific things this passage says will happen during those years.
The text goes on to reveal that it will be seven sevens plus sixty-two sevens until
the long-awaited ruler comes. How many years would that be? What does the passage say will happen then? What will mark the beginning of this time period?
Cyrus made a decree to rebuild the Jerusalem temple in 538 B.C.,which was reiterated later by Darius, but this doesn't mention rebuilding the city (2 Chron 36:20-23; Ezra 1:1-4; 6:1-5). Artaxerxes I authorized Ezra to return to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. to reinstate worship (Ezra 7:11-26). But it was not until 444 that he issued the decree recorded in Nehemiah 2:1-8, which specifically mentions rebuilding the city.
Incredibly, if we take into account that many scholars believe the ancient Jewish calendar was based on a 360-day year rather than our 365 days and do the math in reference to the decree that specifically mentions rebuilding the city, we arrive at March 30, A.D. 33, the exact date commonly accepted for Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
Some dispute the basis for the 360-day reckoning of the Jewish year and the exact date of Jesus' triumphant entry. Others argue that Daniel's years should be viewed as only a round number. But even when these arguments are taken into consideration, the time frame still falls within the lifetime of Jesus!
Since looking into the messianic prophecies for myself, I have become convinced that they stand together as persuasive evidence for the truth of Christianity. When examined closely, even some of the most surprising parts of the gospel story can be found tucked away in the dusty pages of these ancient Jewish Scriptures. Despite the obvious nationalism of the Israelites, the prophecies declare that the Messiah will bring salvation to the Gentiles. Despite the extreme monotheism of Judaism, the prophecies hint at the fact that this man will possess deity and be the Son of God. And despite the obvious preposterous implications, the prophecies clearly state that this triumphant, all-powerful ruler will be executed for our sins.
What do you think about the messianic prophecies of the Bible?
Which, if any, do you find particularly convincing?
Do you think the messianic prophecies confirm the supernatural origin of the Bible? Explain.
A League of Its Own
Michelle, a fifteen-year-old girl I know, calls the horoscope hotline every
morning, anxious to hear predictions about her day. One morning the hotline gave her very specific information. It told her to be careful with her money because someone would try to take advantage of her that day. She went through the entire day carefully watching her allowance. By nightfall she was deeply disappointed because she hadn't come across any instance when anyone even could have taken advantage of her. Despite the number of people today claiming to be able to predict future events, it seems foretelling the future is no easy task.
|The year 1999, seven months, From the sky will come a great King of Terror. NOSTRADAMUS (sixteenth-century seer)8|
When investigating the prophecies of the Bible, I was surprised to find that none of the books that other religions consider holy seem to contain prophecies like it. A full 27 percent of the Bible's text is prophetic material. Though some other holy books do contain some predictions, the prophecies of the Bible seem to be unique in number, detail and fulfillment.
The Bible's prophecies also seem to stand out among the predictions of modern psychics and astrologers. When reading books containing prophecies of Nostradamus, Mother Shipton, Edgar Cayce and others, I was struck by how cryptic and vague many of them are; even followers of these seers often have to admit that many of the most specific prophecies did not come true.
|I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. ISAIAH 46:10|
The same appears to be true for present-day psychics. In fact, in a study performed by The People's Almanac, out of seventy-two predictions of twenty-five top psychics, sixty-six were not fulfilled.9 This 8 percent success rate falls far below the 100-percent fulfillment standard the Bible sets for itself. As Henry Morris writes, "No man or angel or demon can predict specific events and personages that will appear scores or even hundreds of years in the future. Only God can do this .... Consequently, it is in His Word... and only there, that prophecies of this sort are found."10
Are there any Bible prophecies that you believe can be proved false? If so, explain.
What is your view of predictions from sources other than the Bible?
How do you think these prophecies compare to those of the Bible?
Do you believe that the fulfilled prophecies in the Bible substantiate its claims of divine origin? Why or why not?
Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy by J. Barton Payne (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1973). This comprehensive book includes a discussion of every prediction in the Bible and helpful tables that list prophecies by subject for easy reference.
The Messiah in the Old Testament by Walter C. Kaiser Jr. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995). Working through the entire Old Testament, Kaiser examines all the direct messianic prophecies and explores their development and meaning.
Chapter Ten || Table of Contents