Just over 2,000 years ago a male infant was born to a young woman named Mary in the small town of Bethlehem in Judea, a province of the Roman Empire. It was not understood then, but this child was destined to change the entire sweep of history. His parents, Joseph and Mary, named the newborn baby Jesus according to God's will.
It's not possible to adequately describe what the coming of Jesus would mean to the world. We can scarcely begin to comprehend the many works He did. One of the biblical accounts of His life and works states: "And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25).
Many have attempted to describe Jesus and His works. According to one noted historian, more than 100,000 books have been published about Jesus in the English language alone. The coming of Jesus Christ, His teaching and His death and resurrection, revolutionized history and gave birth to the world's largest religion.
So was Jesus just another misguided teacher who, because His followers believed Him to be the Messiah, led them to establish a new religion in His name that happened by chance to endure and have today nearly 2 billion adherents? Or is what the Bible teaches about Him actually true—that He was the Messiah or Christ, the Son of God, and that His life and work were foretold long before His birth?
Was Jesus truly unique?
Other men came forth in that era claiming they were some type of messiah who would deliver the people from the Roman yoke. "It is the grim fact that in Palestine between the years 67 and 37 BC no fewer than 100,000 men perished in abortive rebellions" (William Barclay, The Mind of Jesus, 1963, p. 45).
All of these movements came to nothing, while the work of Jesus survived and eventually flourished. This is just one of the marvelous aspects about Jesus of Nazareth. Other marks stamp on Him a uniqueness not found in any other person in all history.
One is the many prophecies about Him. The nature of His birth and many aspects of His life and works were foretold in the Old Testament. It is this facet of Jesus' life that we focus on in this article.
One source calculates that we find in the Old Testament "three hundred and thirty-two distinct predictions which were literally fulfilled in Christ" (Floyd Hamilton, The Basis of Christian Faith, 1946, pp. 156-157). The probability of this occurring by chance defies our ability to measure statistics.
When we look at the Bible today, nearly two millennia after its completion, we have what are commonly called the Old Testament and New Testament. We view these as one book. Some may not realize, however, that the Old Testament was fixed in form some 400 years before the coming of Jesus Christ.
The prophecies about Him were there waiting for someone to fulfill them and add validation to the Bible as God's Word. The prophecies about Him had been long written. If a man had come from the womb and fulfilled only a few of God's prophecies, we might attribute that to happenstance. But to fulfill more than 300 prophecies defies any possibility of chance!
"Mohammedanism [Islam] cannot point to any prophecies of the coming of Mohammed uttered hundreds of years before his birth. Neither can the founders of any cult ... rightly identify any ancient text specifically foretelling their appearance" (Wilbur Smith, The Incomparable Book, 1961, p. 10). The Bible is unique in this way!
Let's look at just a few of the specific prophetic fulfillments in this article.
Prophecy 1: Jesus would be born in Bethlehem
"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" (Micah 5:2).
Anyone who knows even the bare details surrounding the birth of Christ knows that His parents didn't live in Bethlehem. They lived in Nazareth several days' journey to the north. Around the time that Jesus was about to be born, something was required to have Joseph and Mary go from their home to the village of Bethlehem.
That something was a Roman census. Emperor Augustus issued a decree that all of the inhabitants of the empire should be registered. People were required to register in their birthplaces, so Joseph took Mary, his betrothed wife, to Bethlehem. And while they were there, Jesus was born (Luke 2:1-7).
Did God motivate Augustus to declare that all inhabitants of his reign should be counted at that very time? The answer is yes! This would be the first of many instances of divine intervention accomplishing what was foretold.
Prophecy 2: A herald would proclaim Jesus
More than four centuries before Jesus' birth, God raised up a prophet who stated that Jesus' ministry would be preceded by another prophet who would foretell His coming: "Behold, I will send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me" (Malachi 3:1).
The herald was John the Baptist, and the record of his proclaiming the ministry of Jesus Christ is as follows: "The word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight'" (Luke 3:2-4).
As we add up the predictions of the coming of the Lord, the odds increase against the phenomena happening by chance. Throughout human history, a number of men have been born in Bethlehem. Babies are being born there now. But how many have been born in Bethlehem who also had a heraldic crier proclaiming in advance that he was coming to preach God's Word?
Jesus' birth was foretold in the Old Testament, and then His coming was proclaimed in advance by John the Baptist. Both these prophecies were fulfilled.
Prophecy 3: Jesus would enter Jerusalem riding a donkey
The prophet Zechariah recorded a prophecy pertaining to an event that would occur during the last week of Jesus' life: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9).
During the last week of His earthly life, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, effectively proclaiming Himself God's Messiah (Matthew 21:7-11). How many men in the history of the world have entered Jerusalem as a ruler while riding a donkey? This prophecy alone is something for which we have no recorded historical precedent.
As we add prophecy to prophecy we further eliminate the likelihood of these events being matters of chance. How many men entered Jerusalem riding on donkeys, who were also born in Bethlehem, and whose coming was preceded by someone announcing it beforehand?
Prophecy 4: He would be like a shepherd who is struck down
"'Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the Man who is My Companion,' says the Lord of hosts. 'Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered'" (Zechariah 13:7).
This was fulfilled on the night when Jesus was arrested and the disciples forsook Him and fled (Matthew 26:31, 56). Then Roman soldiers repeatedly struck Jesus, who had declared Himself to be the good Shepherd (John 10:14). They beat Him and struck Him with the palms of their hands (Matthew 26:67). The next day He was killed—the Shepherd was indeed struck, and His close followers were dispersed.
For each utterance that Old Testament prophets made regarding Jesus, we see its fulfillment historically recorded in the New Testament. This confirms that these events were under the overall direction of God and that the Bible is infallible. It's virtually impossible to explain unless there was a divine hand guiding these events.
Prophecy 5: He would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver
"And the Lord said to me, 'Throw it to the potter'—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter" (Zechariah 11:13).
This was fulfilled when Judas betrayed Jesus to the chief priests for the price of 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15-16). Later Judas, suffering from remorse, tried to return the money to the priests. They refused to accept it, and Judas flung the money on the temple floor. The priests later took the money and used it to buy the potter's field for burying strangers who died (Matthew 27:3-10).
This prophecy is very specific. Let us ponder this question: How many men who have accepted blood money to betray a friend have tried to return it and had it rejected? Even further, what are the chances the money was used to purchase a plot for burying vagabonds as foretold centuries earlier?
Prophecy 6: He offered no defense at His trial
"He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7).
When Jesus was before the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, the chief priests and elders leveled many accusations at Him, to which Jesus made no reply. Pilate "marveled greatly" that an innocent man who had so much hatred and false charges directed toward Him would not speak up in His own defense (Matthew 27:12-14).
How many men in history have, when on trial for their life, reacted as Jesus did? How could a man have the strength to restrain himself and not try to save his life when he is totally innocent? The answer is that Jesus was the Son of God. He had come to the earth to fulfill all prophecies recorded about Him. He knew that He, an innocent man, would die for our sins.
Only the Messiah could endure without complaint under such torturous circumstances. He withstood it all without sinning. "Nor was any deceit in His mouth" (Isaiah 53:9). In so doing, He set an example for all Christians who are accused concerning their faith (1 Peter 2:21-23).
Prophecy 7: He would die by crucifixion
"The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet" (Psalm 22:16). Pilate scourged Jesus and "delivered Him to be crucified" (Matthew 27:26). For this prophecy to be fulfilled required an unlikely and extraordinary chain of events.
The Jewish leaders desired to rid themselves of Jesus, whom they regarded as a competitor. However, the Romans did not allow the Jews to impose capital punishment. If they had killed Jesus, it probably would have been by stoning (Acts 7:58), since the Jews did not practice crucifixion.
The Romans utilized crucifixion for despised criminals and especially for people who were thought to represent a threat to the Roman peace. Pilate knew that Jesus was no such threat. He knew that "they had handed Him over because of envy" (Matthew 27:18).
The Jews brought Jesus before Pilate, making the accusation that He essentially represented a threat to Rome (Luke 23:2). Again, Pilate knew that they had trumped up these charges, so he refused to sentence Jesus to be crucified. Then they coerced Pilate into sentencing Jesus through implying that Pilate was being disloyal to Caesar (John 19:12). Pilate feared being reported to Rome, as it could threaten his office as procurator.
Thus, for the one prophecy regarding how Jesus would die to be fulfilled required a chain of circumstances that were indeed unusual. The fulfillment of this prophecy regarding the life and death of Jesus Christ adds to the world of evidence that this Man, whose life was prophesied and remarkably determined beforehand by God, was the Messiah. The fulfillment here adds to the infallible proof that the Bible is God's Word. No ordinary book could have such divine fingerprints upon it.
Prophecy 8: He would die with criminals yet be buried with the rich
"He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12). Although perfectly innocent, Jesus was crucified between two malefactors, flagrant violators of the law (Mark 15:27-28; Luke 23:33).
Isaiah 53 also says, "And they made His grave with the wicked—but with the rich at His death" (Isaiah 53:9). This can sound like a contradiction, but the first part denotes the initial assignment of a mass grave with criminals and the latter part shows what actually happened—that He was buried in the tomb of the rich man Joseph of Arimathea, who made a special request of Pilate for his body (Matthew 27:57, Matthew 27:60). Again, only God could have foretold all this in advance and ensured its fulfillment, recording it centuries in advance.
More to come—assured by God's Word
Thankfully, Jesus did not remain dead and in the grave. He was prophesied to do many more great things—and that could only happen through Him living again. And indeed we know that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and, after appearances to many people, went to heaven to sit at His Father's right hand. He'll be there until the time that He is to come again—this time as "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" (Revelation 19:16).
We should stand in awe at the way Jesus fulfilled prophecy with such exactitude. We should read the inspired Word of God—the Bible—with wonder because it not only tells us of prophecies that have been fulfilled, but it also tells us what's going to happen in the future.
It tells us that Jesus will return to establish God's Kingdom on earth and that He will reign forever (Revelation 11:15). You can be there and be a part of that Kingdom if you act on God's Word and surrender your life to Him now!
Other books have been written that purport to be holy books. How can we distinguish the Bible from all of them? One of the chief ways is fulfilled prophecy.
Speaking through Isaiah, God says: "I have declared the former things from the beginning; they went forth from My mouth, and I caused them to hear it. Suddenly I did them, and they came to pass ... Even from the beginning I have declared it to you; before it came to pass I proclaimed it to you, lest you should say, 'My idol has done them, and my carved image and my molded image have commanded them'" (Isaiah 48:3, Isaiah 48:5).
Read your Bible! Study it diligently. It is God's Word! In it you can read about God's plan—His will for you. That which He desires for all people is far greater than our minds can fully grasp.
However, we can gain an inkling of it by reading the Bible. As He tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10: "As it is written: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.' But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God"!