Prophecy Becomes History Before Your Eyes
by David Jeremiah
The last aurochs—wild, huge cattle that roamed Eurasia for thousands of years—died in Europe in 1627. They were over six feet tall at the shoulder and are the ancestors of modern domesticated cattle. How do we know they existed? History—in the form of cave drawings.
The famous cave paintings in Lascaux, France, feature pictures of aurochs drawn on cave walls. The oldest of the European cave paintings are estimated to be thousands of years old (though carbon dating can be inaccurate given the conditions inside the caves). Besides hundreds of sites in Europe, cave drawings have been found in other locations around the world. Before the history of written language, we have drawings depicting life experiences—what we would call history—for posterity. Whatever the purpose of these primitive drawings, they reflect the uniquely human drive to make records of previous events, thoughts, impressions, and memories.
Why is man driven to record the past in pictures, words, songs, and stories? Since nothing can be done to change what has happened, why the compulsion to record it? It may have something to do with the observation of Spanish philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Looking Ahead, Looking Back
But when it comes to biblical history, there is another reason for recording it: Looking back, the historical record of God’s faithfulness to His people and His Word is a down payment on His faithfulness looking forward. And most people are doing a lot of looking forward these days!
Many who don’t have the benefit of knowing biblical prophecy wonder if humanity is teetering on the brink of extinction—or at least cataclysmic destruction or upheaval. In other words, the future doesn’t look very bright. Rogue nations are developing nuclear capabilities that could annihilate large portions of humanity. Climate changes and environmental pollution seem to be threatening sources of food and clean water. After centuries of efforts, nations are no closer to living together in peace than they were at the dawn of history. And economically, countries like America are standing so close to the edge of insolvency, it appears we have mortgaged the future of the next several generations.
What wouldn’t the average person give for a book that describes the future of the world and the human race! Fortunately, such a book exists—God’s Holy Word, the Scriptures. Looking forward, our fears are dispelled by what the Bible tells us about the future. Planet earth is not out of control. Rather, what remains are the final chapters of God’s redemptive history, the outline (and many details) of which we have been given in the Bible.
But how do we know that what the Bible says about the future will come to pass? Simply by looking back to the prophecies that have already been fulfilled. With every prediction and promise that history confirms, the predictions and promises regarding the future are made all the more certain.
Promises Made, Promises Kept
There was a time, in the beginning, when there were no promises of God, fulfilled or unfulfilled. The future of mankind stretched forth like a blank canvas. And then God spoke the first prophecy—directly related to man’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. Speaking to the serpent that deceived Adam and Eve, God prophesied his ultimate demise: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15).
God gave hope to the first humans by promising that the Seed of Eve, Jesus Christ, would one day crush the head of the serpent, meaning Satan. By the time the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Roman church, that prophecy was partially fulfilled by virtue of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. But it remains for Satan to be crushed: “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20). And it will happen “shortly” (Revelation 22:6).
Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe, a “science-faith think tank,” writes that there are approximately 2,500 prophecies in the Bible, about 80 percent of which (or 2,000) have been fulfilled to the letter with no errors. The remaining 500 or so prophecies are yet to be fulfilled. We have an amazing advantage today over those to whom prophecies were first delivered. There was a time when one percent had been fulfilled; then five; then 10 percent, and so on. Today, 80 percent of what God said about the future has come true! That provides an amazing level of confidence about the prophecies yet to be fulfilled.
For example, Dr. Ross cites thirteen unrelated biblical prophecies, all of which came true, and calculates the probability of all thirteen happening randomly or accidentally. Following are six examples:
- Before 500 B.C., Daniel prophesied accurately that the Messiah would begin His ministry 483 years after the Persian king Artaxerxes issued a decree to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, and that He would be “cut off” (killed) prior to Jerusalem being destroyed a second time (Daniel 9:25-26).
- Around 700 years before the event, the prophet Micah accurately named Bethlehem as the town in which Jesus Christ, the Messiah, would be born (Micah 5:2).
- In the fifth century B.C., Zechariah correctly predicted that the Messiah would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13).
- Four hundred years before the invention of crucifixion, David the psalmist and the prophet Zechariah described in excruciating detail the way the Messiah would be killed (Psalm 22; 34:20; Zechariah 12:10).
- Moses foretold (with additions by Jeremiah and Jesus Christ) that Israel would be conquered twice and carried into slavery, first by Babylon and then by Rome. These destructions of Jerusalem happened in 607 B.C. and A.D. 70. It was also predicted that the Jews would one day return to their homeland which happened in 1948 (Deuteronomy 29; Isaiah 11:11-13; Jeremiah 25:11; Hosea 3:4-5; Luke 21:23-24).
- Five hundred years prior to the events, Joshua predicted that Jericho would be rebuilt by one man; that the man’s older son would die when the construction began and his younger son would die when it was complete (Joshua 6:26). The prophecy was fulfilled in the family of a man named Hiel (1 Kings 16:33-34).
The chances of these thirteen prophecies being filled to the letter, according to Dr. Ross’s calculations, is about one in 10138, or one in ten-with-138-zeroes-added. That’s a number that would take several lines in this article to even write out! Dr. Ross concludes that it is more likely that the Second Law of Thermodynamics, one of the principle laws of nature, would suddenly reverse itself than that all thirteen of these prophecies could accidentally come true. And that’s just thirteen out of the approximately 2,000 that have been fulfilled to the letter with no errors. This amounts to history being written before the fact!
Look Back, Look Ahead
What are the implications of such calculations about the reliability of biblical prophecy? Very simple: If you are concerned about the future, you should do two things. First, study what the Bible says about the future—those 500 prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled. And second, to give you confidence, remember that 2,000 promises, predictions, and prophecies in the Bible have already been fulfilled. That’s a pretty solid batting average as we head into the final innings of life on planet earth.
The apostle Peter explained why the 2,000 have already been fulfilled and why the remaining 500 will be: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Biblical prophecies are not like drawings on the walls of caves. They are written down in specifics that anyone can verify.
The world is full of the records of man looking back and recording what happened in the past. But only the Bible is full of the records of God writing the events of history before they take place. Our task is to keep an eye on the future. God has told us what is going to happen. We have the inestimable privilege of seeing prophecy become history right before our eyes.