Predictive Prophecy as Evidence of the Bible’s Divine Origin
A prophet (prophetes) is “one who speaks forth” (Thayer 553) or one who is “a proclaimer and interpreter of the divine revelation” (Arndt and Gingrich 730). Both writing and speaking prophets of the Old and New Testaments gave people God’s message about how they should live and act, but how were those people to know whether the prophet was speaking for himself or for God? Deuteronomy 18:21-22 answers,
And if you say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?”— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
[All Scripture references in this article will be from the 1992 New King James Version unless otherwise specified]. The test of a prophecy’s divine origin for us today is the same as when it was originally given: if a prophetic prediction happened or came true, we can know that it came from God. It is common for predictions of uninspired men to “fall to the ground,” but God caused the words of His inspired prophets to hold true (1 Samuel 3:19).
1 Kings 21:19-24. Many examples are found in the Old Testament of prophecies being fulfilled, some of them in a short time after being given, and some hundreds of years later. King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel wanted Naboth’s vineyard, so Ahab’s wife Jezebel had Naboth murdered to get it. God sent Elijah to predict the death of Ahab, the end of his dynasty, and the grisly fact that dogs would eat the body of Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel (1 Kings 21:23). Some years passed; then Ahab decided to attack Syria to try to regain Ramoth Gilead. He asked the prophet Micaiah if he should go to war, and Micaiah predicted disaster for Ahab, who was killed in the battle in fulfillment of the prophecy (1 Kings 22:23-38). Several years later Jehu had Jezebel thrown down from a window in the wall, where dogs literally ate all of Jezebel but her skull, feet, and hands (2 Kings 9:30-37). Thus two prophesies were fulfilled, one in a matter of hours and one in some 20 years and in specific, sickening detail.
Isaiah 44:28–45:13. A longer range prophecy was made when God spoke through Isaiah to say a king named Cyrus would come to power in Persia and command Jerusalem and the temple there to be rebuilt (when in Isaiah’s time Jerusalem and its temple were still standing). This prophecy in Isaiah 44:28–45:13 was fulfilled two centuries later when, as 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:1-8 report, the decree of Cyrus was issued, allowing the Jews who had gone into Babylonian exile when Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 to return and take with them the temple treasures Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylon when he destroyed Jerusalem. Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. comments on Isaiah 45:5-6 in the ESV Study Bible, “Predictive prophecy, fulfilled in history, proves that the Lord alone is God, and he wants the whole world to know it” (1323); that is why God said He was calling Cyrus by name more than a century before he was born (Isaiah 45:5). This prophecy and its fulfillment also prove that Isaiah’s message was of divine origin: the Bible is the LORD’S inspired word.
Joshua 6:26. Jericho was the first city conquered by the Israelites after they crossed the Jordan River into Canaan. Moses had died; Joshua was the commander of the army of Israel at that time, and after the city was destroyed, Joshua prophesied, “Cursed before the LORD is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest will he shall set up its gates” (Joshua 6:26, NIV). Some six centuries later during the reign of King Ahab, 1 Kings 16:34 records, “In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation with Abiram his firstborn, and with his youngest son Segub he set up its gates, according to the word of the LORD, which He had spoken through Joshua the son of Nun.” Vannoy comments in the NIV Study Bible on this verse, “[It] Does not mean that Jericho had remained uninhabited since its destruction by Joshua (cf. Joshua 18:21; Judges 1:16; 3:13; 2 Samuel 10:5), but that it had remained an unwalled town or village” (508). Jericho’s walls in Joshua’s time were a major factor in its defense. Joshua’s prophecy and its fulfillment 600 years later show the divine origin of Joshua’s words.
Isaiah 13:17-21. Isaiah prophesied about 740-681 BC, a century before Babylon became the world power described by Roger Dickson:
Babylon was the New York City of the ancient world. Archaeologists tell us that its walls stood three hundred feet high and about eighty feet thick, stretching from forty to fifty miles around the city. Babylon had stone-paved streets. Many of its houses had running water. It had beautiful architecture as evidenced by the existing Ishtar gate. And its hanging gardens were one of the seven wonders of the world. (409)
About a century before Babylon became great, Isaiah foresaw its greatness and its downfall:
And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, The beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited, Nor will it be settled from generation to generation; Nor will the Arabian pitch tents there, Nor will the shepherds make their sheepfolds there. (Isaiah 13:19-20)
A century later, Jeremiah would predict the same desolation for Babylon (Jeremiah 51). Of Jeremiah 51:26 (“They shall not take from you [Babylon] a stone for a corner Nor a stone for a foundation, But you shall be desolate forever, says the Lord.”), Hamilton says, “The stones in the temples and palaces of Babylon were brought from distant countries (there are no stones in the Babylonian plain). . . . The stones of Babylon have all disappeared! The natives have burned them for lime, and thus the prophecy has been literally fulfilled” (318). Those searching in Iraq today for the great city of Babylon will find only ruins. The fulfillment of these words of Isaiah and Jeremiah is evidence of the divine origin of their prophecies.
Many Old Testament prophecies are Messianic and are cited in the New Testament as fulfilled in Jesus Christ—in His birth, life, work, death, resurrection, and church. The two most frequent sources of these prophecies are the Psalms and Isaiah, though passages are cited from other places as well. Those who quote them the most include the writer of Hebrews; the Gospel of Matthew; and Peter, Paul, Stephen, Phillip, and James in the book of Acts. A few of these prophecies are noted here; the headings are the references of the prophecies themselves; the fulfillments are listed in the paragraph under each heading.
Isaiah 52:13–53:12. A prediction written some 700 years before its fulfillment is seen in what is sometimes called his “fourth servant song” in Isaiah (52:13–53:12), a passage that was being read by the Ethiopian treasurer when he invited Philip to ride with him in Acts 8:30-35. The Ethiopian did not understand of whom the prophet spoke, because he did not know about Christ, but Philip, “beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35). No better Old Testament passage could have been found from which to preach Jesus, and Philip was certainly giving the passage its only reasonable application when he answered the Ethiopian’s question by pointing him to Jesus Christ as the subject of the prophet’s words here. “The correspondence between Isaiah 52:13–53:12 and the atoning mission of Christ is too great to be ignored by anyone familiar with the facts of both” (Aebi 154). It is therefore with a great deal of difficulty that unbelievers have attempted to find other applications for Isaiah’s words, which describe God’s Servant as rejected and despised by men (53:1-3). Though He was guiltless, He was bruised, beaten, and slain for the sins of men (53:4-9); and He bore this unjust treatment without complaint or self-defense (53:7-8). In his death and burial he was associated with the wicked and the rich (53:9): Jesus was crucified between two thieves and was buried in a rich man’s tomb by two rich men. God’s Servant thus fulfilled His mission of saving the world from their sins (“He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” 53:5). Most of this “song” speaks of how men would reject Him, although it begins with a declaration that God’s Servant would be exalted and extolled and be very high (53:10-12; 52:13-15). Thus Isaiah predicts Christ being rejected by men but exalted by God, a theme on which other prophets also spoke. On Isaiah 52:13–53:12, Ortlund wrote,
To be clear on which parties are described, it helps to observe the pronouns: “I” in this passage is typically the Lord, “he” the servant, and “we” the servant’s disciples, who themselves need the servant to bear their guilt (53:4-6), which is why the servant cannot be Israel or the pious within Israel. (1337)
To prophesy so specifically of the suffering and death of Christ, Isaiah had to be inspired by God. Fulfilled prophetic predictions thus are evidence of the divine origin of the Bible.
Psalm 2:1-2, 7. Another prophecy having to do with God’s reversal of man’s decisions, particularly in the case of Christ, is Psalm 2, which is quoted twice in Acts and twice in Hebrews as applying to Christ. Psalm 2:1-2 asks, “Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the LORD and against His Anointed. . .” (“His Anointed” is the same as His Messiah or His Christ.) After being imprisoned, threatened, and commanded by the Jewish authorities to not speak or teach in the name of Jesus, Peter and John returned to their own company and reported on their treatment. Thereupon the disciples prayed, quoting Psalm 2:1-2 and interpreting it as fulfilled in the authorities’ and people’s treatment of Christ. They understood the kings to be represented by Herod, the rulers by Pontius Pilate, the nations by the Romans, and the people by the Jewish people who gave their voice against Jesus: “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together” (Acts 4:27). The prophecy of Psalm 2:1-2 was thus fulfilled by men in general—both high and low among Jews and Gentiles—rejecting the LORD’S Messiah. But God overruled men’s decision, and Paul points out in Acts 13:33 that Psalm 2:7 refers to God’s exaltation of Christ. The apostle affirmed that this prophecy is fulfilled in God’s having raised Jesus permanently from the dead. The words of Psalm 2:7 (“I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”) sound like Jesus’ birth, but it is the resurrection which is under discussion here, and for proof of this resurrection Paul quotes the prophecies of Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 55:3; and Psalm 16:10. The theme of Psalm 2, which Acts 4:25 says was spoken by David, is that it is useless to rebel against the LORD’S Messiah. Psalm 2:1-3 expresses astonishment at this rejection of God’s Anointed. Verses 4-6 speak of God’s scorn and anger at the rebels; the LORD enthrones His King anyway. Then in Psalm 2:7-9, the King speaks, telling of God’s decree proclaiming Him King and assuring Him of a successful reign. This is followed by the conclusion in verses 10-12 that wisdom dictates the necessity of accepting the LORD and His Messiah. In the context of Psalm 2, verse 7 must refer to the Messiah’s resurrection rather than to His birth, because He has already been rejected (killed) in verses 1-3, and verses 4-6 tell of God’s reaction to their rejection of His Messiah. Psalm 2:7 is also applied to Christ’s resurrection and ascension to reign in Hebrews 1:5, and in Hebrews 5:5 it is referred to Christ’s becoming High Priest and therefore to His resurrection and ascension to be Mediator. Peter affirms in Acts 2:29-30 that David predicted that Christ would be resurrected to sit on his throne.
Psalm 16:8-11. David prophesied even more specifically of Christ’s resurrection in Psalm 16:8-11, where he says, “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption” (verse 10). Peter quotes Psalm 16:8-11 in Acts 2:24-32, where he begins by saying of Jesus, “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (verse 24). He then quotes the whole passage and implies that his hearers knew where David’s tomb was and that David’s body was still in the tomb. Since David did not arise and his body did decay, he could not have spoken of himself; he had to be speaking of Jesus, the only one of David’s descendants to arise from the dead. Christ’s body arose from the grave (did not decay), and His soul came out of Hades to rejoin His body, and both body and soul ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, as David also said He would in Psalm 110. Paul in Acts 13 applied Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 55:3; and Psalm 16:10 all as fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ:
God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”. And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: “I will give you the sure mercies of David.” Therefore He also says in another Psalm: “You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; but He whom God raised up saw no corruption. (Acts 13:33-37)
Psalm 110:1. Psalm 110:1 is quoted or referred to no less than thirteen times in the New Testament, not counting the parallel passages in the Gospels. Each time it is applied to Christ’s ascension to reign, which is usually linked in these references with either the crucifixion or the resurrection. In addition, Psalm 110:4 is quoted twice and referred to three times by the author of Hebrews as fulfilled in Christ as our High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Jesus (Matthew 22:43-45) and Peter (Acts 2:34-35) agree with the Psalm’s title that God spoke Psalm 110 through David, describing the dominion God gives His King and assuring the King that He will have a successful and victorious reign over subjects who are volunteers and for whom the King acts as a Melchizedekan priest (Psalm 110:3-4). The Pharisees of Jesus’ day held that the Christ was David’s Son, but could not explain how He was also David’s Lord (Matthew 22:41-46), because they viewed the Messiah as a man only, not as the Son of God. With the exception of liberals, premillennialists, and Jewish scholars, there is probably more agreement on the application of Psalm 110:1 than on any other Old Testament prophecy cited as fulfilled in Christ’s ascension into heaven to reign at the right hand of God. Psalm 110:1 is applied only to Christ in the New Testament and is said to be inapplicable to David on two counts: (1) David calls the King “my Lord,” which Jesus points out to the Pharisees as noted above; and (2) David did not ascend into heaven to rule at God’s right hand, but Jesus did, which made Him both Lord (Ruler, Sovereign) and Christ (Anointed One, Messiah, King), Peter said in Acts 2:34-36. Peter’s application of Psalm 110:1 here is echoed throughout the New Testament in Matthew 26:64 and parallels; Mark 16:19, Acts 5:30-31, Acts 7:55, 1 Corinthians 15:25, Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 1:3, 13, Hebrews 10:12-13, Hebrews 12:2, and 1 Peter 3:21-22. Psalm 110 is strictly predictive prophecy in which David, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and with the Messianic promise made to him in 2 Samuel 7:16 in mind, foresaw and described the heavenly reign of Christ over His spiritual kingdom. David set forth this description in language seemingly applicable in certain aspects to his own time because he, like other biblical prophets, saw no other way to express his visions than in terms familiar to his day. As Orr says, “In the prediction of distant events to which existing conditions no longer apply, there is no alternative but that these should be presented in the forms of the present” (461). Indeed, this is a principle of all language: Anything new and unknown to one’s hearers must be expressed and explained in terms known to those hearers, else it has no meaning
Micah 5:2. It is generally agreed that Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah; MacRae and McComiskey set the date of his ministry as somewhere between 750 and 686 BC (1370). Micah in chapters 4-5 talks about the kingdom of the Messiah, and in 5:2 says, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” Some 700 years later, “wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him’” (Matthew 2:1-2). King Herod the Great called the chief priests and scribes together and asked where the Christ was to be born, and they answered, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet,” and thereupon quoted Micah 5:2, which shows that the Jewish religious leaders understood clearly that Micah was talking about the Christ (Messiah). The wise men were led to where Jesus was in a house in Bethlehem (He had evidently moved from the stable area where He was born), and they worshiped Him and gave Him gifts. Neale Pryor writes that Micah “was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah and predicting his birth at Bethlehem. Jesus was born in Bethlehem as a direct fulfillment of this prophecy. The prophet foretold it, and it was fulfilled as he foretold it. This is the simplest of the examples of direct prophetic fulfillment” (278). Surely such a specific prophecy fulfillment is evidence of the divine origin of the Bible, and all the more since Nazareth, not Bethlehem, was the hometown of Mary and her fiancé Joseph, and they were only in Bethlehem because they were required by the authorities to go there to register for taxes levied by Augustus Caesar.
Matthew 24:1-34. Jesus Himself was a prophet and made several predictions, one of which was of the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Rome, recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. At the time this prophecy was made, Jesus was in the last week of His ministry before His crucifixion. He and His disciples had just left the temple, which was still being embellished after a plan of remodeling started by Herod the Great before the birth of Christ. Some of its huge foundation stones were being admired by His disciples, but Jesus said they would all be thrown down and the city destroyed within the lives of some of his generation: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34). Some 40 years later, Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed by the Romans, as Jesus predicted, and the city was left a shambles. Some people want to make all of Matthew 24 apply to the end of the world, but that cannot be, for Jesus said it would happen in their own generation (Matthew 24:34), which would be nearly 2,000 years ago. Others want it all to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but that is ruled out by Jesus’ statement that when the disciples saw the signs of coming destruction (like the wars, famines, earthquakes, and armies surrounding the city), they should flee to the mountains, whereas He said no one but God could know when that time would be, so how could they flee? But Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, just as Jesus said it would be. Such predictions show that Jesus was God’s Son and that the Bible is God’s Word.
Many other statements of Jesus and of Old Testament prophets could be cited, but those referred to here should convince the thoughtful reader that these men did not speak for themselves; they were inspired by the God of Heaven. Predictive prophecy recorded in the Bible is surely incontrovertible evidence of the Bible’s divine origin. How else can it be explained?
Charles J. Aebi
Charles J. Aebi received the MA from Abilene Christian and the Ph.D. from Ohio University. He taught Bible for 34 years at Ohio Valley University, served 15 years as academic dean, and 6 years as chairman of the Bible Department. Charles serves as a Staff Writer for Sufficient Evidence and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aebi, Charles J. The Application of Old Testament Prophecies Cited in Acts. Thesis. Abilene: Abilene Christian College, 1959.
Arndt, William F., and Wilbur Gingrich, trans. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1957.
Dickson, Roger E. The Fall of Unbelief. Winona: Choate, 1982.
Hamilton, Floyd E. The Basis of Christian Faith. New York: Harper & Row, 1964.
MacRae, Allan A., and Thomas A. McComiskey. “Micah.” The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985.
Orr, James. The Problem of the Old Testament. New York: Scribner’s, 1907.
Ortlund, Raymond C., Jr. “Isaiah.” ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.
Pryor, Neale. “Use of the Old Testament in the New.” Biblical Interpretation Principles and Practice. Eds. F. Furman Kearley, Edward P. Myers, and Timothy D. Hadley. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986.
Thayer, Joseph Henry. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. 1889. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965.
Vannoy, J. Robert. “1 Kings.” The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985.