The True Identity of Jesus of Nazareth
Selah » The Bible's Authority
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
Of all the so-called holy books, only the Bible authenticates itself. It does so through a method we call predictive prophecy and it works like this. Only God knows the end from the beginning. To help us learn to believe Him, He told His ancient people things that hadn't happened yet. Then when they came to pass just like He said they would, He had them document everything and preserve it for future generations. We call this documentation the Bible, which by many accounts consists of nearly 40% predictive prophecy, some fulfilled and some still to come.
When asked what work God requires of us, Jesus replied, "The work of God is this. Believe in the One He has sent." (John 6:28-29) Because He's told us so many things in advance and has always been right, He expects us to believe in Him. His view is that He's proven Himself so far beyond any reasonable doubt that people who say they don't believe in Him are really being disobedient by refusing to believe. And belief is a requirement. That's why in the New Testament the Greek word translated unbelief also means disobedient.
The Old Testament is so chock full of the proof of God's existence that there's simply no justification for unbelief. (In my article on Proving the Existence of God I used the examples of Cyrus the Persian and Alexander the Great to show that anyone with a Study Bible and a competent history book can verify the existence of God simply by comparing fulfilled prophecy with world history.)
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."(Psalm 14:1). Only a fool can say that. But even a fool can't say it logically, with his mind, because there's too much evidence to the contrary. He has to say it emotionally, in his heart. Foolish opinions based on emotion don't need to be true.
What's The Point?
Of all the things we should believe about God, the most important one is that He sent His Son to die for our sins so we could spend eternity with Him. The first prophecy of this appears in Genesis 3:15 and it's repeated through out the Old Testament.
Can we prove beyond a reasonable doubt that He's done this? After all He's asked us to risk our entire eternity on this issue alone, and by the time we find out for sure if He was telling the truth or not, it'll be too late. We'll be dead. It's pretty important that we know for certain.
So let's review a few of the better known prophecies relating to Jesus of Nazareth and see if we can prove that He's the One God sent. And while we're at it, let's see if there's any possibility that he could have fulfilled these prophecies accidentally. Chance is always the rival conjecture. Could this have all happened by coincidence, or can we know that Jesus is the promised Redeemer?
It's About Time
By the way, all the prophecies we'll be looking at are from the Old Testament. I'll give you the approximate date of each one, but if you're worried about the differences of opinion surrounding these dates, make it easy on yourself. It's a fact of history that Ptolemy Philadelphus II had the Hebrew Scriptures translated into Greek beginning in about 282 BC. They didn't do it all at once, but by 150 BC the work was pretty much complete and so each prophecy we'll look at was a matter of public record at least 150 years before the fact. With that, let's get started.
Born Of A Virgin
The Lord had Isaiah tell us that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. This would make Him unique among all men and clearly identify Him as the One God was sending. Isaiah wrote the following passage about 750 BC.
Prophecy: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
Fulfillment: The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:30-35)
Probability of coincidental fulfillment: Impossible to calculate. But since there were about 300 million people alive on Earth when Jesus was born, let's say 1 in 300 million. (See Joseph's Story for an explanation on why the virgin birth was necessary.
Born in Bethlehem
Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah's, also writing about 750 BC. The Lord had him identify the place where the Messiah would be born.
Prophecy: But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. (Micah 5:2)
Fulfillment: So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4-7)
Probability of coincidental fulfillment: Bethlehem has always been a small town. Of Earth's total population, if 3000 people lived in Bethlehem at that time, then the likelihood of a child being born in Bethlehem would have been about 1 in 100,000.
Rides Into Jerusalem On A Donkey
Zechariah wrote after the return from Babylon. His first 8 chapters were written at the beginning of his ministry in 519 and 518 BC and chapters 9-14 at the end of his career, around 480 BC.
Prophecy: Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech 9:9)
Fulfillment: As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it.'" Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?"
They replied, "The Lord needs it."
They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" (Luke 19:29-39)
Probability of coincidental fulfillment: The population of Jerusalem 2000 years ago was about 50,000 but it being Passover, pilgrims from all over the Middle East would be arriving and would have swelled the number to many times that. It's said that 100,000 lambs were sacrificed that Passover so using the ratio from Exodus of one lamb for every 10 people would mean that upwards of 1 million people crowded into Jerusalem and its surrounding area for the Passover. (Remember every able-bodied Jewish male in the world was required to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem.) Now, what's the likelihood that any one of them, while riding into town on a donkey that first Palm Sunday would cause the crowd to spontaneously hail him as the Messianic King of Israel? We can only guess. 1 in 1 million?
Betrayed For 30 Pieces Of Silver And The Money Used To Buy A Potter's Field
Again, this prophecy of Zechariah's was written about 480 BC.
Prophecy: I told them, "If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it." So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me, "Throw it to the potter"-the handsome price at which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD to the potter. (Zech 11:12-13)
Fulfillment: Then one of the Twelve–the one called Judas Iscariot–went to the chief priests and asked, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over. (Matt 26:14-16)
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned," he said,"for I have betrayed innocent blood."
"What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility."
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
The chief priests picked up the coins and said, "It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money." So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. (Matt 27:3-7)
Probability of coincidental fulfillment: This one's also impossible to calculate. It's hard enough to get someone to write about you 500 years before you're born, but then you have to get your betrayer and your sworn enemies to cooperate in fulfilling what's been written. Someone once said that the likelihood of coincidental fulfillment of this prophecy would be like covering the State of Texas with silver dollars to a depth of three feet, randomly marking one of them, and then having a blindfolded person wander around across the state and on his first try, pick up the marked coin. But let's be generous and give it a 1 in 1 million chance.
Though Innocent Made No Defense
This prophecy comes from the Book of Isaiah, written about 750 BC.
Prophecy: He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
Fulfillment: Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?"
"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.
When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, "Don't you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?" But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge–to the great amazement of the governor. (Matt 27:11-14)
Probability of coincidental fulfillment: As with the previous example, I don't know of a single person who wouldn't defend himself before his accusers, especially if he was innocent. I know I would protest long and loud at the injustice of false accusation. Above all, it's a violation of the 9th Commandment. If there were 1 million people in Jerusalem that day and if He was the only one who wouldn't defend himself when charged with a capital crime then the probability is 1 in 1 million.
He Was Punished For Our Sins
This is another promise the Lord had Isaiah write down in about 750 BC and one of the most crucial for us to prove.
Prophecy: But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
Fulfillment: This had been described as a primary goal of the Messiah through out the Old Testament and from the beginning of His ministry, Jesus was identified as the One Who takes away the sins of the people (John 1:29) But did he?
After His death the Apostle Paul would write, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21) and When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14) The Apostle Peter agreed. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18) Both these men died horrible deaths rather than change even a word of their testimony and are reliable witnesses. As Peter said, "We were eyewitnesses of His majesty."
Probability of coincidental fulfillment: Using our 300 million number for the inhabitants of Earth, could you find 300 men who had never sinned and could be convinced that by dying the horrible death of crucifixion, the sins of mankind would be forgiven? If so the probability is 1 in 1 million.
In Daniel 9:26 we find the most specific prophecy of all. It was written just as the Babylonian captivity was ending, about 530 BC. In it The Angel Gabriel explained to Daniel that the Messiah would come to Israel and be executed in a narrow window of time between the 483rd year after permission to rebuild Jerusalem was granted and the subsequent destruction of the city and Temple. From history we know that this time frame was 38 years in duration.
Prophecy: Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.
Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. (Daniel 9:24-26)
Fulfillment: When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"
"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes." (Luke 19:37-42)
It was the first Palm Sunday, the only day in His entire ministry when the Lord allowed the people to call Him Israel's King. It was the 10th of Nisan, 483 years to the day after Persian King Artaxerxes Longimonus signed a decree authorizing Nehemiah to go and begin rebuilding Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 2:1-6) It was the day ordained in history for the Messiah to arrive in Jerusalem. When they missed it, He prophesied the destruction of the city.
The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you. (Luke 19:43-44)
38 years later the Romans destroyed the city and tore the Temple apart stone by stone until not one was left standing on another. Another case of predictive prophecy fulfilled.
What's It All Mean?
If you're looking for the Messiah, you have to find someone who fulfilled not only the seven prophecies we've listed here but all the 300 or so others given in the Old Testament as well. And then He had to give His life for us within the 38 year window of time God revealed to Daniel.
The probability of one man fulfilling just these seven prophecies by chance is 1 in 9 X 10 to the 45th power. That's 1 chance out of 9 with 45 zeros after it. In other words it's so small as to be unworthy of consideration. The true identity of Jesus of Nazareth is that He's Israel's Messiah and our Redeemer. That fact can be proven with greater certainty than you can prove that you are who you claim to be. Next time we'll apply what we've learned here to the more than 500 prophecies having to do with His Second Coming. See you then.