The Old Testament writings, which were canonized as the inspired word of God, contain many predictions of future events. The central figure of these predictions is the Messiah, the Savior. The Jews have expected the Messiah to this day. However, those closest to Jesus alleged that they had found him; they embraced the belief that Jesus was that Messiah and eventually became known as the earliest Christians. The prophecies of the Messiah they saw to be prophecies of Jesus. This they did in part because Jesus fulfilled all of the prophecies of the Messiah noted by the Old Testament prophets.
We understand, as did the early Christians, that when events play out as they had been predicted centuries ago, that there is something miraculous taking place. In fact, statistical probabilities tell us just how unlikely it would be to find the fulfillment of predictions made centuries ago in one person. Think of how much has changed only in the last 100 years – it is quite staggering. Let us imagine how likely it would be for a set of predictions to come true centuries after the predictions themselves. Not only would we need to accurately predict things, which we may be able to do with some good guessing, but we’d also need to have the foresight of ideas, concepts, and realities, which would not exist for centuries. Consider the following predictions that had to come true:
Prophecies of Jesus’ Birth and Ancestral Lineage
Prophecies of Jesus’ birth are quite staggering:
- His incarnation of the Seed of Woman – will be born of a virgin
- Is the Son of God
- Abraham’s seed – the Messiah would come from the Hebrew race through Abraham’s lineage, in effect narrowing down the possible Messianic candidates.
- Son of Isaac (lineage) – Since Abraham had two sons, half the lineage is eliminated
- Son of Jacob (lineage) – Since Isaac had two sons, half the lineage is eliminated
- From the tribe of Judah (lineage) – Since Jacob had 12 sons, from whom the 12 tribes of the Hebrew nation were formed, the prophecy narrows the lineage down to one. It is, in essence, eliminating 11 out of the 12 candidates (excluding population numbers).
- From the family line of Jesse (lineage), eliminating a vast spectrum of other family lines.
- In the House of David (lineage) – Since Jesse had at least eight sons, at least seven-eighths of the lineage is eliminated.
- Born in Bethlehem – Though Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, an incredible set of circumstances beyond their controlled them to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. Bethlehem, which means, “house of bread,” then fittingly becomes the birthplace of the one who is known as the “Bread of Life.” All other cities in the world are thus eliminated from being the birthplace of the Messiah.
- Was presented with gifts – three wise men from the east brought gifts
- As Herod murders children – Herod had set out to murder all male children under two years old in and around Bethlehem because he was threatened by the Messiah, who was foretold to be a great king.
Prophecies of Jesus’ Nature
- His preexistence – the fact that the Son of God did not come into existence when He came in the flesh but that He has existed all the while.
- He is to be called Lord
- He will be Immanuel (“God with us”), looking forward to his incarnation
- He will be a Prophet
- He will be a Priest
- He will be a Judge
- He will be a King
- He will be specially anointed of the Holy Spirit
- He will have a zeal for God (the Father)
- Prophecies About the Ministry and Death of Jesus
- He will be preceded by a messenger – John the Baptist
- He will begin the ministry in Galilee
- He will be a miracle worker
- He will teach in parables
- He will enter the temple
- He will enter Jerusalem on a donkey
- He will be a stumbling block for Jews
- He will be a “light” to the gentiles
- He will rise from the dead
- He will ascend to heaven
- He will be seated at the right hand of God
Prophecies of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus
These prophecies were written during the period of five centuries but found their fulfillment in Jesus Christ in one 24-hour period.
- He will be betrayed by a friend
- He will be sold for 30 pieces of silver
- Money will be thrown into God’s house
- The price to be given for potter’s field
- He will be forsaken by his disciples
- He will be accused by false witnesses
- He will be silent before His accusers
- He will be wounded and bruised
- He will be stricken and spit upon
- He will be mocked
- He will fall under the cross
- He will be crucified – His hands and feet will be pierced per Roman crucifixion procedures as the nails were driven through and into the cross beams to allow for the victims to hang. Isaiah predicted this hundreds of years before crucifixion had been invented by the Romans.
- He will be crucified with thieves
- He will pray for His persecutors
- He will be rejected by His own people
- He will be hated without a cause
- His friends will stand far away
- People will shake their heads
- He will be stared upon
- His garments will be taken off and gambled for
- He will suffer thirst
- Gall and vinegar will be offered him
- He will cry out, feeling forsaken
- He will be wholly committed to God
- His bones will not be broken
- He will be heartbroken (literally) – Jesus’ heart burst before his death on the cross.
- His side will be pierced
- There will be darkness over the land during His crucifixion
- He will be buried in a rich man’s tomb
Some of these prophecies appear at first to be overly vague; enough in some cases for us to forgo their consideration as predictions. For example, Jesus’ zeal for God is generic enough to be dismissed. Still, other predictions can be confronted with the argument that Jesus would have had the opportunity to intentionally fulfill them. For example, it was predicted that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus would have known of this prediction and could have indeed ridden on a donkey into Jerusalem to intentionally fulfill the prophecy. Not only would we be right in assuming this; we actually find the NT writings confirming our assumption. Jesus did in fact knowingly make sure to fulfill the prophecies he had direct control over. Why would he do such a thing? Could it be that he was indeed pointing at himself as the Messiah, the fulfillment of all those predictions? By knowingly fulfilling those prophecies, Jesus was indeed making the claim that he was the foretold Messiah and making further claims to Godhood.
By the same token, however, we must not discount the numerous prophecies that Jesus could not have intentionally fulfilled. For example, Jesus was not capable of deciding where He was going to be born. We could walk through the other examples and see that most of them are not as vague as some would argue them to be. When we understand the different forms of OT writings, can see the prophetic style of writing, are familiar with the Jewish culture and are able to detect analogies, symbolism, metaphors, and hyperboles, we will have very little trouble seeing the predictions and subsequent fulfillment in Jesus. Most of these prophecies are not vague when understood in context, and the early Christians did not need any form of special pleading to make the pieces fit together.
What Do the Prophecies of Jesus Mean?
The list above includes only the significant prophecies. There are others that are of secondary concern and, quite frankly, unnecessary to include in this list – an incredibly complete set of predictions that have all been fulfilled in Jesus. We can now revisit our thoughts about the plausibility of all these predictions coming true in one person merely by coincidence. Better yet, we don’t have to settle for just thinking it. We actually have hard and fast statistical probabilities. Peter Stoner, Professor Emeritus of Science at Westmont College, has calculated the likelihood of one man fulfilling the major prophecies made concerning the Messiah. The estimates were generated by 12 different classes (roughly 600 university students). The students carefully weighed the factors at length and examined the various circumstances concerning each prophesy, finalizing their estimates of the probabilities to conservative levels to appease even the most skeptical of students and achieve unanimous agreement. Professor Stoner then took those estimates, made them even more conservative and encouraged other skeptics, including those in the fields of the sciences, to make their own assessments to see if his conclusions were more than fair. He submitted his figures for review to a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation and, upon examination, had his calculations verified and validated.
Peter Stoner’s project discovered that the chance that any man could fulfill a set of just eight of the prophecies would be one in 1017. Stoner gives us an illustration to help us comprehend these odds by supposing that:
“We take 1017 silver dollars and lay them down on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one?” [1. Stoner, Peter Winebrenner, Science Speaks: An Evaluation of Certain Christian Evidences (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963) 109-110.]
But this is just for eight of the prophecies. What would be the odds of fulfilling more of them? Considering the fulfillment of 48 prophecies, Stoner comes up with the mind-blowing figure of one in 10157. Absolutely staggering! It may be argued that the writers of the NT had a bias in making the prophecies fit the person of Jesus in their writings, but how reasonable is this? Why would they, for example, force the prophetic pieces into place in direct opposition to the Jewish religious leaders, routinely face persecution and be ostracized by their friends and families for making such a radical shift from their traditional cultural and theological views? Were it not for the weight of the entirety of the evidence, we would expect their every inclination to be to doubt those credentials when facing those conditions. This is not what we see.
Instead, we see Jesus’ disciples emboldened by various experiences and evidence even in the face of tremendous persecution. No doubt, among the reasons for their undeterred confidence was the fact that the predictions made by the prophets of old found the perfect fulfillment in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.