Jesus prophecy continued…
Out of his control
Imagine winning a Powerball lottery with merely one ticket among tens of millions sold. Now imagine winning a hundred of these lotteries in a row. What would people think? Right, “it was rigged!”
And over the years a similar claim has been made by skeptics about Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. They have granted that Jesus fulfilled messianic prophecies but have accused him of living his life in such a way as to intentionally fulfill them. A reasonable objection, but not as plausible as it might seem.
Consider the nature of just four of the messianic prophecies:
• His lineage would come from David (Jeremiah 23:5).
• His birth would occur in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
• He would migrate to Egypt (Hosea 11:1).
• He would live in Nazareth (Isaiah 11:1).
Now, what could Jesus do about fulfilling these prophecies? Neither he nor his parents had any control over his ancestry. His birth in Bethlehem was the result of a census mandated by Caesar Augustus. His parents’ move to Egypt was prompted by King Herod’s persecution. And once Herod died, Jesus’ parents naturally decided to resettle in Nazareth.
Even if at a young age an imposter Jesus looked at the prophecies he had accidentally fulfilled and decided to go for it and see if he could make the rest (like someone deciding to shoot the moon in the card game Hearts), the deck would still have been impossibly stacked against him. Consider some of the factors in the prophecies we’ve already looked at: the Messiah would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver; he would be killed by means of crucifixion; and people would cast lots for his clothes. These prophecies all came true for Jesus, yet what control did he have over the fulfillment of any of them?
Bible scholars tell us that nearly 300 references to 61 specific prophecies of the Messiah were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. The odds against one person fulfilling that many prophecies would be beyond all mathematical possibility. It could never happen, no matter how much time was allotted. One mathematician’s estimate of those impossible odds is “one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion.”
Bertrand Russell, adamant atheist, was asked in a Look magazine interview what evidence it would take for him to believe in God. Russell responded, “Well, if I heard a voice from heaven and it predicted a series of things and they came to pass, then I guess I’d have to believe there’s some kind of supernatural being.”
Bible scholar Norman Geisler responded to Russell’s skepticism. “I’d say, ‘Mr. Russell, there has been a voice from heaven; it has predicted many things; and we’ve seen them undeniably come to pass.’ ” Geisler was alluding to the fact that only a transcendent Being outside of time would be able to accurately predict future events.
Proof in a jar
We’ve looked at the evidence for Jesus’s fulfillment of messianic prophecies from every angle but one. What if the Christian scribes who copied scrolls of Isaiah and the other Old Testament prophetic books altered them to make them correspond to Jesus’ life?
This is a question many scholars and skeptics have asked. And it seems possible, even attractive. It would prevent us from making Jesus into a lying imposter, which seems highly unlikely and it would explain the amazing accuracy of his fulfillment of prophecies. So, how do we know that the Old Testament prophetic books, such as Isaiah, Daniel, and Micah, were written hundreds of years before Christ, as purported? And if they were, how do we know Christians didn’t alter the texts later?
For 1,900 years, many skeptics held fast to that theory, based upon the human impossibility of accurately predicting future events. But then something occurred that doused all enthusiasm for the theory. Something called the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Half a century back, the finding of the Dead Sea scrolls provided Bible scholars with copies of Old Testament books that were far older than any others known to exist. Extensive tests proved that many of these copies were made before Jesus Christ even lived. And they are virtually identical to the texts of the Bible we were already using.
As a result, even scholars who deny Jesus as the Messiah accept these manuscripts of the Old Testament as having predated his birth and therefore concede that the prophecies about the messiah contained within them have not been altered in order to conform to Jesus.
An interesting twist
If these predictions were fulfilled so accurately through the life of Jesus, it seems logical to wonder why everyone in Israel would not have been able to see it. But as his crucifixion attests, not everyone did see it. As the apostle John said of Jesus, “Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted” (John 1:11). Why?
Considering the embattled history of Israel, it is not difficult to read into the definition of Messiah the idea of a political freedom fighter. It is understandable how a first-century Jewish person might think, How could the Messiah have come and Israel still be oppressed under Roman occupation?
While Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecies, he did so in ways that no one was expecting. He sought a moral and spiritual revolution, not a political one, accomplishing his objectives through self-sacrifice and humble service, healing and teaching. Meanwhile, Israel was looking for another Moses or Joshua who would lead them in a conquest to recover their lost kingdom.
Of course, many Jews of Jesus’ day did recognize him as the Messiah—the entire foundation of the Christian church being Jewish. The majority, however, did not. And it’s not so hard to comprehend why.
To better understand the first-century Jews’ misunderstanding, consider this messianic prophecy written 700 years before the birth of Jesus by the prophet Isaiah. Was it referring to Jesus?
All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the guilt and sins of us all.
He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people realized that he was dying for their sins—that he was suffering their punishment? He had done no wrong, and he never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.
But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs….And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. (Portions of Isaiah 53:6-11)
As Jesus hung on the cross, one perspective would understandably be, “how could this be the messiah,” while simultaneously others were clearly thinking, “Who else but Jesus could Isaiah be talking about ?
So, what are we to make of Jesus having fulfilled so many prophecies written hundreds of years prior to his birth? Leonardo DiCaprio … I mean, Frank Abagnale might be a good imposter, but even he got caught by the time he was old enough to drink a beer legally.
Jesus doesn’t look anything like a more competent Frank Abagnale. He’s in a different category altogether. No imposter could ever beat such odds as those presented by Hebrew prophecy.
And what does that mean? Two conclusions emerge: First, only a transcendent Being could orchestrate such events. And second, it makes all of Jesus’ other claims credible and worthy of serious consideration.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus making the claim, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Overwhelming evidence seems to indicate that the signature on that check is not a forgery.
Rick was formerly employed on Madison Avenue, as an art director at the advertising agency of Young and Rubicam. He has a BFA from Syracuse University and an MDiv. from Trinity seminary. Rick is now publisher of a small Press and lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania with his wife and three teenage children.
 Terence Hines, Pseudoscience and the Paranormal (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003).193.
 Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1999), 194.
 Prediction 3, Quatrain 2, 28. [FULL CITATION?] Rick’s reference
 McDowell, Ibid.
 Quoted in McDowell, 12-13.
 McDowell, 164-193.
 Peter W. Stoner, Science Speaks (Chicago: Moody Press, 1958), 97-110.
 Ibid., 5.
 The Hebrew word netzer, appearing in Isaiah 11:1, is believed by many to refer to Nazareth, Jesus’s hometown.
 Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 262.
 Quoted in Strobel, 141.