Bible prophecy and its fulfillment are some of the most powerful supports for the dependability of Christianity. By making predictions, Bible writers put their claims at risk. If their predictions do not come true, then they lose all credibility. When their predictions do come true, the trustworthiness of the scriptures is supported. This article is written to (i) review Old Testament prophecies about Christ, and to (ii) evaluate the fulfillment of these prophecies from the perspective of probability and chance.
Jesus said, "everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Lk. 24:44, Mt. 5:17, Jn. 5:39). With these words, Jesus confirmed that Old Testament writers did predict his coming and that their predictions must necessarily be fulfilled. What were these forecasts and how were they fulfilled?
Old Testament writers made about 365 specific predictions about the coming Christ (a list of these prophecies can be found by GOOGLING "Messianic Prophecies"). In addition to the large number of prophecies, these prophecies are distinguished by their (i) specific detail, (ii) their "degree of difficulty," and by (iii) the amount of time that passed between the prophecies and their fulfillment.
Making vague predictions is one thing, but making (i) specifically detailed predictions is quite another. Two passages exemplify the precise features of Messianic prophecy. Hosea spoke of the Messiah's flight to Egypt to escape Herod's wrath (Hos. 11:1). Zechariah predicted that the Messiah would be betrayed for "thirty pieces of silver" (Zech. 11:12-13).
Olympic events are often scored according to (ii) degree of difficulty. That is, easier athletic displays receive a lower score and more difficult stunts receive a higher score. How do many Messianic prophecies qualify for a higher score?
Fulfilling easy predictions is one thing, but the fulfillment of difficult prophecies is quite another. One prophecy is particular was made much more difficult because it depended entirely on enemies and not on friends. David predicted that not one of the Messiah's bones would be broken (Ps. 34:20, Jn. 19:36). The Romans typically broke the leg bones of those they crucified to hasten death.
Quickly stacking a fulfillment on top of a prophecy is one thing, but separating a prophecy from its fulfillment by centuries is quite another. The earliest Messianic prophecy is found in Genesis 3:15, worded some 1,500 years before the fact. The (iii) great the amount of time that passed between the prophecies and their fulfillment intensifies the fulfillment.
One of the important evidences for the truth of Jesus' claims to be God is that of fulfilled prophecy. In fact, the Old Testament, which was written over a 1000-year period, contains a few hundred references to the coming Messiah. All of these were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, thereby establishing a solid confirmation of His credentials as the Messiah.
Probability & Chance
Setting aside the specific detail, the degree of difficulty and the time that elapsed between Messianic prophecies and their fulfillment and concentrating only on their sheer number still leads to a powerful conclusion. Probability is the study of the likelihood that something might happen by accident. Probability is expressed in numbers (one chance in 10, one chance in 20, and etc.) with higher numbers indicating a lower probability that something might happen by accident. The mathematics of probability indicate that the accidental fulfillment of Messianic prophecies is impossible.
Taking just eight specific prophecies concerning the Messiah, Peter Stoner wrote in his book, Science Speaks, to show that mere coincidence cannot explain all of these being fulfilled in one man. He applied the science of probability to show the chance that all eight prophecies would be fulfilled in one man. That probability was calculated to be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000! Is there any comparison we can make to help understand that huge number? In the book Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Josh McDowell points out that 100,000,000,000,000,000 silver dollars would cover the state of Texas two feet deep.
Christians have been criticized as “stupid people who believe in a fairytale.” The opposite is true. Christianity and the claims of the Bible are based in solid good reason. Messianic prophecies and their fulfillment are one example of the many good reasons to believe.