But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.” You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed. Deuteronomy 18:20-22
Over the centuries, many people have claimed to speak for God or the spiritual/supernatural realm, making predictions that didn’t happen. According to this passage in Deuteronomy, the failure of their foretelling proves they did not speak for God.
The Bible mentions many false prophets. For example, in the Hebrew Bible, Zedekiah (1 Kings 22) and Hananiah (Jeremiah 28) were false prophets. Jesus warned his followers to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
Modern times have their fair share. From the Y2K scare to the Mayan Calendar in 2012, you can search the web and find numerous failed prophecies. The coming of the Messiah and his kingdom is a popular topic.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not very good at predicting the future. My uncle Larry used to take my sister and me to the horse races. I quickly learned not to bet over $2 because I almost always lost. I rarely broke even. At least I loved to watch the horses and the racetrack vendors sold great BBQ sandwiches, so all was not lost.
I can’t tell the future because I don’t know everything and I am trapped in time and space. God doesn’t have those problems. He created time and space, and although he interacts with us here, he is an eternal Being who existed outside of our universe before he created it.
The God of the Bible is all-knowing (omniscient) and present everywhere (omnipresent). Like a traffic helicopter surveying the city highways and streets during rush hour, he has a perspective that those of us on the ground don’t have.
In the Bible, a true prophet is someone whom God had chosen to be his messenger. Their mission was to speak on God’s behalf, giving guidance, encouragement, warnings, and judgment. Of course, anyone can claim to do that, so fulfilled predictions about the future were powerful proof that what the prophet claimed was true. God gave his prophets information about events to occur in the near future in order to affirm their credentials, along with the more distant predictions that would come to pass much later. Because of God’s track record in fulfilling his near prophecies, we can trust Him that eventually, he will come through on the others.
Many claim these Old Testament texts were accurate because they were written AFTER the supposed ‘foretelling’ had occurred. Conservative scholars have refuted those claims. After surveying a long list of prophecies, Josh McDowell writes:
“This [claim] is absurd, for all of these prophecies [detailed by McDowell] are found in the Old Testament, and every one will date its writing before Christ. One of these prophecies was completely fulfilled before Christ. Two had small parts fulfilled before Christ and the remaining parts after Christ. All other prophecies considered were completely fulfilled after Christ.” (Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972, p. 331)
On the next page, he observes:
“What seemed to be a great blow to the Christian faith, the Moslem invasion of the Holy Land and eventual failure of the Crusade, is in reality a great victory for the Christian. The Moslems catalyzed the final sealing of many prophecies. How many condemned cities in this study alone fell during or directly because of the Crusades and the Moslem invasions? (Tyre, Petra, Samaria, Askelon)” (McDowell, p. 332)
A source for more information on Old Testament predictions is Chapter 6: Old Testament Prophecy Fulfilled in History in The Best of Josh McDowell: A Ready Defense, compiled by Bill Wilson, Here’s Life Publishers, 1990, pp. 56-73.
The Old Testament gives about 300 predictions concerning the future King and Messiah (Anointed One), whom the New Testament teaches was Jesus. We have copies of the Old Testament (The Dead Sea Scrolls) from two centuries before Jesus was born, so we know they were not written after the fact. Jesus completed all of those that referred to his first coming. Some await fulfillment when he comes in the future. Here are examples –
His lineage: a descendant of Abraham (Gen. 12:3; Gen. 22:18); from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10); a descendant of David (2 Sam. 7:12 and 13); born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
The timing of his ministry and death: from the “stump” of Jesse (David’s father) i.e., after the Davidic Kingdom was cut off (Isa. 11:1); Daniel’s prophecy of the future Messiah who will come after 69 weeks of years after the rebuilding of Jerusalem after its destruction by the Babylonians (is that confusing?), then he will be ‘cut-off’ (killed) and Jerusalem will again be destroyed. (Daniel 9:24-27)
The manner of his death: suffered (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 53:5 and 6); silent (did not defend himself) before his accusers (Isa. 53:7); executed as a criminal (Isa. 53:12); interceded for those who really were criminals (Isa. 53:12); killed (Isa. 53:8); his hands and feet pierced (Ps. 22:16) (note that crucifixion was not practiced when this Psalm was written); people gambled for his clothing (Ps. 22:18); assigned a burial place with the wicked, but actually buried in the tomb of a wealthy man (Isa. 53:9)
His Resurrection: his body would not decay (Ps. 16:10); he would rise from the dead (Ps. 2:7-9; Ps. 16:10 and 11; Isa. 53:9-12); he would ascend into heaven from where he will one day return to rule the earth (Ps. 110:1; Dan. 7:13 and 14)
These were all accurate descriptions of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. What powerful evidence for the reliability of the Bible! This book is unique in all of history.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Latin hymn from 12th century; English translation by John M. Neale, 1818–1866
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. . . .
O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell Thy people save and give them vict’ry o’er the grave. . . .
O come, Thou Key of David, come and open wide our heav’nly home where all Thy saints with Thee shall dwell—O come, O come, Emmanuel!