In the New Testament, Jesus is depicted as fulfilling numerous Old Testament Messianic prophesies. These prophesies provide objective verification that He is Who He claims to be. But how can we know that these things really happened? In other words, how do we know that the New Testament writers didn’t just make up these details, to make Jesus look like the Messiah?
I want to suggest three sets of prophesies that the New Testament writers couldn’t have manipulated, because they were outside of their control.
In Daniel 2, the prophet Daniel interprets a dream that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had. In the interpretation, Daniel prophesies that there will be four succeeding kingdoms (starting with the Babylonians). In the fourth of these, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people” (Dan. 2:44). Historically, we can say that the four kingdoms to rule over Israel are Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.
Rome, the fourth kingdom, rules Jewish Israel from 64 B.C. until about 70 A.D.(when the Jews are sent into Diaspora, and Israel is crushed). That’s a fairly tiny window for the Messiah to arrive, yet Christ lived, died, and was resurrected during this span. Now, obviously, the New Testament writers couldn’t have controlled whether or not the Romans controlled Israel during this period. More on that here.
Nailing of Christ to the Cross (1538)
Psalm 22 is one of the Messianic Psalms, and the one that we’re told that Christ quoted on the Cross (Mark 15:34, quoting Ps. 22:1). The Psalm was written centuries before the advent of crucifixion. Yet a Crucifixion scene seems to be vividly depicted. In Ps. 22:16-18, the Speaker cries out,
Dogs surround me,a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among themand cast lots for my garment.
That sounds a lot like Crucifixion: after all, how many other forms of capital punishment involve being stripped, having your hands and feet pierced. and being put on public display? What’s more remarkable is that we know that the Romans relied heavily upon crucifixion in the first century.
So Psalm 22 appears to predict a form of capital punishment that wouldn’t exist for centuries, this form of capital punishment was used by the Romans in the first century, and would certainly have been used upon Christ for His alleged crimes. None of these are facts that the New Testament writers could have controlled. Put another way, had the Death of Christ taken place at virtually any other time or place, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which His Death would have fit Psalm 22 so believably.
|Matthias Grünewald, The Crucifixion (1515) (detail)|
Nor is it just Psalm 22: one of the constant themes of the New Testament is that Jesus is the sinless Lamb of God (John 1:36; Revelation 7:17), prefigured by the Passover lamb (Exodus 12; 1 Corinthians 5:7). Yet one of the requirements of the Passover Lamb is that none of its bones could be broken — this symbolized its perfection (Ex. 12:46). The Apostle John tells us that Jesus fulfilled even this detail at the Crucifixion (John 19:36). And with a Crucifixion, that’s quite believable. But what other form of execution would have so neatly fit all of these prophesies?
Here, the evidence is so strong that it was once thought that the evidence was forged. Psalm 22:16 literally says that “they dug my hands and my feet,” a very graphic image of being nailed to the Cross. Skeptics used to think that Christian forgers had changed the Hebrew (from ka’ari, “like a lion,” to ka’aru, “they dug”) to make this sound prophetic. Today, we know that isn’t true: a first-century parchment was found, proving that the passage wasn’t some later forgery.
|The Dome of the Rock (background) and the Wailing Wall (foreground)|
The Old Testament contains a number of prophesies about the Second Temple. The most important of the prophesies are these two:
- Haggai 2:1-9 promises that, while smaller in size than its predecessor, the Second Temple would exceed the First Temple in glory.
- Malachi 3:1 tells us that the reason for this is that “the Lord you are seeking will come to His Temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.”