May 11, 2014 | Wes Hynd
A few years ago, I was in Toronto trying to get into Comicon (it didn’t happen) when I saw a van across the street with large black letters reading “May 21, 2011 Judgment Day.” That’s my birthday, so I figured I should find out what was going on. Some guy tried to convince me that we could figure out the date of Judgment Day from the Bible, even though the Bible says multiple times that nobody will know when the end is coming until it hits. Not surprisingly, May 21 came and went and we’re all still here (although I did use it as an excuse to have a laser tag birthday party). One of the worst things you can do if you want people to believe you is try to predict the future. Sooner or later, the future happens.
Previously, we looked at archaeological evidence which has authenticated many of the historical figures, events and geographical locations in the Bible. However, this by itself does not authenticate the Bible as altogether factual or the Word of God. One of the boldest claims made about the Bible is that it accurately predicts future events. Many of the authors of the Bible were considered “prophets,” people to whom God spoke directly and through whom God spoke to other people. Many of these so-called prophecies are said to have been fulfilled already, and some are said to still be on the way. Some are more obviously predictions of the future than others. Regardless, the skeptic is extremely skeptical when it comes to this belief and for good reason. I have to admit, I am skeptical myself. While I can believe the Bible for other reasons, I can’t believe it on the basis of the claim that the Bible contains hundreds of fulfilled prophecies unless there is good evidence for both the legitimacy of the prophecies and the legitimacy of their fulfillment. It’s just too much of a stretch otherwise.
The Old Testament is full of references to a figure which the Jews were expecting God to send at some point in the future called the “Messiah.” Messiah is a Hebrew word (“Christ” in Greek) meaning literally “anointed one.” This figure, by their understanding of various prophecies, would set them free from captivity and become their king. Hundreds of years later, many Jews (and Gentiles) came to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah as a result of his teachings and miracles, but also because they believed he was fulfilling these Old Testament prophecies. Some of these prophecies include the Messiah’s ancestry (Gen. 12:1-3, 22:18; Gen. 49:10; 2 Sam. 7:12), his birthplace in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), being born of a virgin (Is. 7:14), that he would come while the temple was still standing (Malachi 3:1), the kinds of miracles he would perform (Is. 35:5-6), the precise year that he would die (Dan. 9:24-26), how he would die (Ps. 22:16-18; Is. 53:5; Zech. 12:10) and that he would rise from the dead (Ps. 16:10).
As mentioned, some of these prophecies are more obviously predictions of the future than others. However, even the less obvious ones are attested to be Messianic prophecies by various Jewish Rabbinical writings in history. Personally, I find some of these prophecies particularly convincing. I recently read Isaiah 53 to a Muslim friend of mine and asked him who he thought it was talking about. The passage includes many descriptions of the Messiah, including his being despised and rejected by his people, being pierced through for our transgressions, that we would be healed by his scourging, that he would die for our sins, and even that he was with a rich man in his death (the Gospel accounts say Jesus was buried in a new tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea). My friend’s answer was “Jesus.” He was surprised to learn that the passage had been written about 700 years before Jesus was born. Crucifixion had not even been invented yet.
Daniel 9:24-27 is another interesting passage, and one that is very specific. It predicts that the Messiah will die after seven “units of seven” and sixty-two “units of seven,” in the context referring to units of seven years, beginning from the time of an edict to rebuild Jerusalem. This adds up to 483 years (360-day years in the Jewish calendar). There are four possible edicts which Daniel could be referring to, the latest of which takes place in 445 B.C. (King Artaxerxes to Nehemiah). From 445 B.C., 483 years (approx. 476 years by our calendar) takes us right to about the time of Jesus’ crucifixion (between 30 and 33 A.D. according to most scholars). I find that pretty interesting.
The prediction that the Messiah would stand in the temple in Malachi 3:1 is also significant since this would require him to have come prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. (a requirement which is shared by Daniel 9).
Along with all of the other predictions about the Messiah which were supposedly fulfilled by Jesus, there is a compelling case to be made that the Bible accurately predicts future events. It would take some time to list all of the other prophecies contained in the Bible. Others unrelated to the Messiah include the rise and fall of various nations and empires, the destruction of the temple, and the re-gathering of the Jews to their homeland, a prophecy which appears to have been recently fulfilled when Israel became a nation again in 1948.
Of course, some argue that the early followers of Jesus wrote the Gospel accounts to mirror the Messianic prophecies so that it would appear as though Jesus fulfilled them. This is certainly possible, so we will evaluate this claim in a few weeks. Others maintain that certain passages were not actually intended to be prophetic at all, despite their apparent unique fulfillment and consistency with other prophecies.
Believing such extraordinary claims with no good evidence is one danger; immediately ruling them out a priori based on one’s pre-existing worldview is another danger, which many are sure to do with claims like this which necessitate the existence of the supernatural. Let us aim not to fall into either trap.
What would it take for you to believe a prediction about the future?