This Sunday we heard a fascinating sermon that addressed the accuracy of Biblical prophecy, especially the prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. (Click here to watch the sermon by Pastor Marc Estes.)
One of the impressive claims regarded the mathematical law of compound probabilities. Here’s the argument in summary: There were hundreds of Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah. The odds of a man fulfilling just one of these are slim. But the odds decrease at a compounded rate if a man were to fulfill two or three or four. Pastor Marc shared that the odds of a single person perfectly fulfilling only eight of these prophecies is one in 1017 (or one in 100,000,000,000,000,000). As you can see, it’s hard to fathom the fact that Jesus has already fulfilled hundreds of these prophecies during his first coming.
Now, forgive me, but sometimes I like to play devil’s advocate with these claims. Not because I disagree with them, but because I want to make sure I understand them. The first objection that came to mind was, “But this doesn’t apply to someone who intentionally manipulated the circumstances to appear as if he were fulfilling the prophecies. Can’t a critic simply claim that Jesus only fulfilled the prophecies because he was trying to? If so, the whole ‘argument from compound probability’ falls apart.”
Fair enough. There are certainly examples where Jesus specifically tried to fulfill prophecies. In Matthew 21 Jesus instructs his disciples to bring him a young donkey in order to fulfill the prophecy in Zechariah 9. Matthew 4 states that Jesus ministered in Galilee to fulfill a prophecy in Isaiah 9. A dozen similar examples of “intentional fulfillment” come to mind.
The more I considered the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled, the more I realized how many of them a mere man would have little to no control over. Here are only a few of the more notable ones. The odds of Jesus fulfilling these alone are unfathomable.
- Born in the obscure little town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
- Born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).
- From the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10) and the family of David (Isaiah 11:1).
- A messenger would come before him to prepare the way (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1). There is no reasonable evidence that Jesus engineered the ministry of John the Baptist in order to fulfill these prophecies.
- Hands and feet pierced (Psalm 22:16).
- His executioners divided up his garments and cast lots for them (Psalm 22:18).
- He was given vinegar to drink on the cross (Psalm 69:21).
- None of his bones were broken. This fulfills the statement about the Messiah in Psalm 34:20 as well as the prophetic type of the Passover Lamb, whose bones were not to be broken (Exodus 12:46). This is particularly impressive given that the criminals being crucified with Jesus had their legs broken to speed the process; but they did not break Jesus’ bones because he was already dead at that point.
- He was pierced through (Zechariah 12:10).