Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

PROPHECY IN THE BIBLE

About 30% of the Bible is devoted to prophecy. Prophecy is the forth telling of things in the future. Biblical prophecies are specific and do not lend themselves to arbitrary interpretation. The number and detail in these prophecies, as also their precise fulfillment, constitute evidence that Jehovah, the God behind the Bible is real and true, and that the Bible is His authentic message to man. Some prophecies are yet to be fulfilled. I have concentrated on prophecies in the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Genesis. First I list down different prophecies and their fulfillment, then I clarify a few points.

Lists of Prophecies

The following are lists of prophecies along with their fulfillment:

"Under the Christian religion, I find actual prophecy, and I find it in no other" – Blaise Pascal, French mathematician

"To declare a thing should come to pass long before it is in being, and to bring it to pass, this or nothing is the work of God." – Justin Martyr, second century Greek/Roman scholar who became convinced of the Bible's divine origin after studying prophecy

Double Fulfillment

Daniel 9:27 mentions a ruler who will install an abomination in the Jewish temple premises. This abomination would cause the temple to become defiled and desolate. In 167 BC, the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes did exactly that. But Jesus, speaking in 32 AD refers to the abomination that causes desolation as a future event (Mark 13:14). The event is still future. Lesson: many prophecies have a double fulfillment.

Context separation

Prophetic literature contains statements whose context is very different, spaced closely together:-

Example 1: In Psalm 22, David begins complaining that although he cries out to God in his distress, God seems to be far away from him. He describes his distress. David had a long and eventful career: he was shepherd, army general, fugitive, and king; from what we know of his life, it is easy to understand David writing Psalm 22:2-7 about himself. But he goes on to say: "They pierced my hands and feet...they cast lots for my robe" (Psalm 22:16, 18). These things never happened to David, but they happened to Jesus when he died (John 19:24). Thus, David's personal suffering, and the sufferings of Christ - two completely different things, are mentioned in close separation.

Example 2: In Isaiah 7, God is speaking to the wicked king Ahaz through Isaiah the prophet in about 730 BC. God invites Ahaz to ask for a sign from Him, but Ahaz refuses. God replies that He himself will give a sign: a virgin shall conceive and give birth to One called "God with us" (Isaiah 7:11-14). Nothing of the sort happened during Ahaz's reign, but it did happen seven centuries later when the Son of God came in human form to the earth as Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary. Skeptics who complain that this prophecy is interpreted "out of context" by Christians always fail to answer:-

  1. What event in Ahaz's lifetime is Isaiah 7:14 referring to?
  2. If there is no such event, then according to the skeptics' interpretation, Isaiah has proved false, why did the Jews continue to regard Isaiah as divine scripture? On what basis can you, a modern skeptic, claim to be better at interpreting an ancient text than its immediate readership?

Thus when we read prophecy, we must watch out for statements completely removed from the apparent context. 

Time separation

If you were studying prophecy at Bible College, the "textbook" example of this would have to be the following:

"The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon Me; because Jehovah has anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of Jehovah and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to appoint to those who mourn in Zion, to give to them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the mantle of praise for the spirit of heaviness; so that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Jehovah, that He might be glorified." – Isaiah 61:1-3

The Jewish prophet Isaiah made this prophecy in about 698 BC. Now look what happens in a small town in northern Israel called Nazareth, in about AD 30:

"So Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free with deliverance those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. And He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears." – Luke 4:16-18

We find Jesus reading from a passage in Isaiah. He claims that that scripture was being fulfilled in front of them. Why? Because he was the subject of the prophecy. He was going from place to place doing exactly what Isaiah had said he would do - preach the gospel to the poor, free captives, and proclaim the "acceptable year of Jehovah". Isaiah has more to say, but what does Jesus do? He closes the book! Why? Because the rest of Isaiah's prophecy refers to his second coming, which was future then (and still is), as we can make out from the rest of scripture. Lesson: Two points may be mentioned adjacent to each other in prophecy but their fulfillments may be separated by thousands of years, and be in completely different contexts.

Some concerns

The Bible's prophecies match history so well that several critics (who refuse to believe that God could have inspired the authors) have claimed that the prophetic books are fakes that were written after the events took place. The following are my reasons for rejecting such a hypothesis:

  • If the book of Daniel was a fraud, it was written either before Jesus or after Jesus. If it was written after Jesus, there would have been no reason for Jesus to quote it - but he did (Matthew 24:15). If it was written before Jesus, there is no naturalistic explanation for the fact that Daniel successfully predicted the day when Jesus would walk into Jerusalem (described in Matthew 21), or that the temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed [the Romans destroyed it in AD 70].
  • Some of Daniel's prophecies pertaining to the period 200-100 BC were only partially fulfilled [see above]. If a fraudster were writing the book, he would have matched his writings to history alone and not included anything extra. From what John wrote in Revelation nearly 600 years after Daniel died, we obtain further details about the complete fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy in (what is yet) the future. This shows the hand of God.
  • If Daniel were a fraudster writing in 200-100 BC, he would not have mentioned two characters from the 6th century BC with brief careers: Belshazzar and Darius the Mede - they were forgotten by the time Greek historians and brought to light only by recent archaeological discoveries. The fact that Daniel mentions them (Daniel 5:1, Daniel 5:31) proves that Daniel was an eye-witness to the events mentioned - unlike Greek historians who wrote a century and a half later.
  • If Daniel was fabricated after Jesus, why should it include a prophecy that establishes Jesus to be the Messiah? [Since the Jews rejected Jesus and wanted to kill those who preached that Jesus was the Messiah?]. If your response is that Daniel may have been fabricated by a non-Jew, that raises two new questions: why is it so sympathetic to the Jewish cause (the long-term restoration of Israel, and so on) and what made the purist Jews (who regarded non-Jews as dogs) accept it as scripture?
  • Prophetic books such as Hosea, Amos, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah cast the people of Israel in a very poor light. There is no reason for the people of Israel to recognize these books as genuinely inspired by God unless they saw unmistakable evidence that this was indeed the case. If a fraudster was writing something to be accepted by the Jews, he'd obviously write only good things about them or be mild in his criticism of "certain sections" of them. On the contrary, Biblical prophets are absolutely scathing. Jeremiah says he nearly got killed and was absolutely unpopular because of his "pessimistic, morale busting" prophecies (Jeremiah 26:7-24). Isaiah calls Jerusalem a prostitute. Ezekiel calls Israel a desperate whore who does not even charge her customers for sex. Why should a fraudster write such unpopular stuff and then have his writings revered by those he denounces in the severest possible language?
  • No fraudster would predict absolutely impossible stuff like a virgin giving birth (Isaiah 7:14). Or do you think Isaiah was a fabrication that developed after Jesus claimed virgin birth?
  • If all these guys are fraudsters, what's their motive? If you claim that they had a common motive, you should keep in mind that Isaiah lived around 700 BC, Jeremiah in 600 BC, and Ezekiel/Daniel in 500 BC. How could they collaborate? If they had different motives, how did they get their writings compiled into one consistent book?
  • During Jesus' time, all these writings were treated as genuine. If you claim they're not, you'll have to give a convincing explanation as to why you, who are living 2500 years after these prophets, know better than Jesus' contemporaries such as Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who lived only 500 years after these prophecies were recorded.
  • During 500 BC - 70 AD, the most demoralizing thing for the Jews was the fact that they were not independent. A fraudster should write about how they'll get that longed for independence. But these prophets ignore such aspirations for quick independence. Instead, Ezekiel prophesied that long forgotten nations [to the Hebrews] such as Russia will attack Israel. In ancient times, such an attack was unthinkable. There is no way a fraudster would bother to write something so audacious.

Further reading on the authenticity of the prophetic books of the Bible:

  • Dr. E. J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel (Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, 1949)
  • Sir Robert Anderson, Daniel in the Critics Den (New York, n.d.)

Conclusion

The Bible's ability to predict the distant future accurately makes it a class apart from other books. Biblical prophecy also proves that the Bible is not just a human composition, but God's word.

Other places:

Further reading on prophecy:

  • Copper, David L. 1940. Future Events Revealed. Los Angeles, CA. Biblical Research Society.
  • Dyer, Charles H. 1993. World News and Bible Prophecy. Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale Publishing House
  • Lacey, Harry. 1942. God and the Nations. New York, NY: Loizeaux brothers
  • LaHaye, Tim. 1972. The Beginning of the End. Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale Publishing House
  • Rowell, Earle Albert. 1933. Prophecy Speaks. Takoma Park, MD: Review and Herald.
  • Urquhart, John. 1939. The Wonders of Prophecy. London, Pickering and Inglis.
  • Wilmington, Harold L. 1981. Signs of the Times. Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale Publishing House
  • Stewart, Herbert. 1941. The Stronghold of Prophecy. London, Mashall, Morgan and Scott.
  • Smith, Wilbur M. 1951. World Crises and Prophetic Scriptures. Chicago, Il: Moody Press.
  • Uprichard, Harry, 1994. A son is promised. Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.