Nature of Bible Prophecy
Bible prophecies are messages that God gave His people through His messengers, the prophets. Through them God let the people know what He wanted them to do and showed them many things that would happen in the future.
God inspired the prophets to write down the revelations that He gave them. We have them in the Bible. Their predictions of future events make the Bible different from the sacred writings of other religions. Many of these predictions have already come true in the minutest detail. The Bible contains the historical fulfillment of a great number of them. Some of the prophecies are being fulfilled right now. Others will take place in the future.
Importance of prophecies
The fulfillment of Bible prophecies lets us know that the Bible is what it claims to be –– the word of God. Who else knows every detail of the future and can describe just what is going to happen to certain people in a certain place at a certain time hundreds of years later? God has confirmed the inspiration of the Bible by announcing His purpose ahead of time and then making everything happen just as He had said through His prophets.
The prophecies in the Old Testament about a coming Savior are extremely important to us for three reasons:
1. We can measure Jesus’ life against these predictions and see if He really is the promised Savior.
2. We can better understand, through the prophecies, who Jesus is and why He came. We are shown His work in the past, present, and future.
3. We can know that God does what He has promised. Just as the first phase of the prophecies about Jesus has worked out exactly as it was foretold, the prophecies about the future will be fulfilled too.
Development of messianic prophecy
We call the prophecies about the Savior messianic prophecy. This is from the Hebrew title Messiah, which means the Anointed One. Priests, prophets, and kings were anointed with oil to show that God had chosen them and set them apart for His work.
The coming Messiah would be anointed by God’s Holy Spirit to do His work. He would be Prophet, Priest, and King. The Greek word for Messiah is Christ. When we talk about Jesus Christ, we are calling Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed One the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies.
God’s promises of the Messiah were given to His people very gradually over a period of about 4,000 years or more. Some of them described the work that Jesus would do on earth as our Savior. Others refer to His future everlasting Kingdom. Some of these prophecies were given in message about a local situation but went beyond the immediate problem to the coming of the Messiah.
God revealed more and more details about the Messiah as the time went by ––where He would be born, how He would die, what kind of work He would do. In fact, some Bible students have counted 330 details about the Messiah in Old Testament prophecy. God wanted everyone to be able to recognize the Messiah when He came.
The rites of worship that God’s people used in the Old Testament were prophetic. God had established a whole system of sacrifices as a picture of the coming Messiah who would give His life to save people from their sins. The work of the priests was a picture of what Jesus would do as a priest for all mankind.
The whole book of Hebrews in the New Testament tells how Jesus fits perfect the prophetic picture given by the symbolic ritual of the Old Testament.
All over the world today we find traces of the prophetic rites and sacrifices that God instituted when man sinned. Many religions have in their worship some of these signs that were meant to point to Jesus. Members of these religions should study the Christian Bible to discover the true meaning of their ritual.
Human and Divine
We find the first promise of the Messiah in the first book of the Bible. God refers to Him as the seed of the woman. He would be born of a woman. Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, had sinned. Satan, God’s enemy, had persuaded them to disobey God. This separated them from God and gave Satan power over them. But God promised that a Savior would be born who would fight Satan and destroy his power. God told Satan:
Genesis 3:15. And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
Down through the following centuries, God told His people many more details about the Savior. He would be born in Bethlehem, in the land of Palestine. Yet He wouldn’t be an ordinary man. He was eternal. He had always existed but would come to earth to be born as a human baby and grow up to be ruler in Israel. Micah prophesied:
Micah 5:2. But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
About 700 years before Jesus was born, God showed the prophet Isaiah that the coming Savior would be both human and divine. He would be born of a virgin, without a human father. God would be His Father. One of His titles would be Immanuel, which means God with us.
Isaiah 7:14. Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah 9:6. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke you can read how Jesus was born in Bethlehem without a human father––son of the virgin Mary and Son of God. Human and divine, He was Immanuel––God with us.
Sacrifice and Savior
God showed several of the prophets that the Savior would give His own life as the sacrifice for our sins. All the animals that were sacrificed to God before Jesus came were pictures of Him. The sinner brought a lamb or goat to the priest to be killed and burnt on the altar. This meant: “God, I have sinned against you. I’m sorry and don’t want to do it any more. I know that the punishment for sin is death, so I deserve to die. But please accept this sacrifice in my place and forgive me. Then I will live for you.”
The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah describes perfectly how God would make the Savior a sacrifice for our sins, but how later He would live again and be happy to see the people who were saved because of His death. Jesus became our sacrifice for sin and our Savior. The prophets had told when and where and how He would be betrayed by a close friend, falsely accused, put in prison, tried, mocked, scourged, and crucified. But He would rise again. All this happened to Jesus in every detail, just like the Old Testament prophets had said. You’ll study more about this.
Prophet, Priest, and King
Old Testament prophecies show that the Messiah was to be anointed by God’s Spirit to be our Prophet, Priest, and King. As Prophet He would be God’s voice to us. As Priest He would be our voice to God. As King He would be God’s hand to help us and direct us. He would set the standard for us to live by and establish God’s rule in our lives.
When Jesus began His public ministry He read to the people this prophecy about the Messiah and let them know that they were seeing it fulfilled in Him:
Isaiah 61:1,2. The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
Prophet. Moses was a great prophet, religious leader, and ruler of the Jewish people about 1,400 years before Jesus was born. God spoke through him to the people. He received God’s law and gave it to the people. He led them out of slavery. Great miracles accompanied his ministry and proved that God had sent him to be the leader of his people. Moses said:
Deuteronomy 18:15. The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me.
Jesus was like Moses in many ways. God spoke through Him. He performed great miracles. He freed people from the slavery of sin. As a prophet, Jesus foretold many events, including: His own death by crucifixion, His resurrection after three days, His return to Heaven, what His followers would do, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the spread of the gospel, and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. All this happened just as Jesus said it would. Some of His other prophecies are being fulfilled right now. And we know that the rest of them will all come true.
Priest. The Psalmist wrote of the Messiah:
Psalm 110:4. The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Old Testament priests prayed for the people and also offered sacrifices for their sins. Jesus prayed much for His followers when He was on earth and is praying for us now. The sacrifice He offered for our sins was His own life. Now we can go to God for forgiveness through Jesus our Priest. Whenever we go to Him in prayer, our Priest presents our needs to God.
King. What a conquering King the Messiah would be according to the Old Testament prophecies! He would defeat Satan, the enemy of God and of mankind. He would conquer sin, sickness, sorrow, and even death. He would defeat the forces of evil and establish a reign of perfect justice and peace on the earth. He would provide the solution to all the world’s problems. No wonder the people looked forward to His coming! The prophecy you read in Isaiah 9:6 about the Prince of Peace goes on to say:
Isaiah 9:7. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.
You will notice in the gospels that some of the people called Jesus Son of David. He was a legal heir to the throne of David. His followers recognized in His miracles and His ministry all the characteristics of the wonderful kingdom that the Messiah would establish. Many, at that time, wanted to make Him King. But Jesus was not ready to establish His universal Kingdom in our hearts and lives. We are now in a period of inviting people to accept Jesus as King of their lives. He frees all those who receive Him as their King from the power of sin and Satan.
Some day Jesus will come back to earth to establish His eternal kingdom. And so, it is important that you learn all you can about who Jesus is, what His rule will be like, and what your part will be in His kingdom. Maybe you would like to make this prayer your own.
Jesus, please help me learn the truth about who You are. Help me to give You the place You deserve in my life. Amen.
Take the quiz
Test your knowledge by taking this short quiz.
1. Bible prophecies of future events were...
a) revelation that prophets received from the spirits of the dead.
b) foreknowledge of the future by studying the stars.
c) revelations that God gave through His prophets.
2. What does the title Jesus Christ mean?
a) Jesus the Conqueror and King.
b) Jesus the Sacrifice and Savior.
c) Jesus the Anointed one, the Messiah.
3. For what three offices were men anointed with oil to set them apart for God?
4. How did God give the messianic prophecies?
a) Gradually through many prophets over a period of 4,000 years
b) All at once 4,000 years before Jesus was born
c) Gradually over a period of 400 years before Jesus was born
5. How many details about the Messiah have been counted in the Old Testament prophecies?
6. The ritual sacrifices and priesthood of the Old Testament are...
a) important for us to follow today.
b) important as a prophetic picture of the Messiah and His work
c) not important for us today.
7. What book in the New Testament shows how Jesus fulfills the prophetic ritual of the Old Testament?
8. Choose the prophetic descriptions of the Messiah that are correct.
a) Seed of a woman
b) Born in Bethlehem
c) A carpenter
d) Prince of Peace
9. Both the Old Testament and the New teach that the Messiah is...
a) an ordinary man
b) divine but not human
c) both human and divine.
10. What kind of sacrifice did Jesus offer to save us from our sins?
a) Lambs and goats
b) His good deeds
c) His life, dying for us
11. How long was the Savior to be a priest?
a) Two Years
b) Four years
12. What prophet was the Savior going to be like?
13. When we pray to Jesus and ask for forgiveness for our sins because of His sacrifices, we are recognizing Him as...
a) a prophet like Moses
b) our Priest
c) Conqueror and King
14. The title Son of David referred to the Messiah as...