A General Overview Of Bible Prophecy
How many prophecies are in the Bible – How do we know?
Many are aware that there are prophecies in the Bible, but few realize that more than 27% of the 31,124 verses in the Bible are prophetic in nature. The J. Barton Payne’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy notes that there are 1,239 prophecies in the Old Testament and 578 prophecies in the New Testament, for a total of 1,817. These encompass 8,352 verses. There are two schools of thought regarding how to count Bible prophecies.
General: Some record prophecies in a broad or general way – this is appropriate but does reduce the number of prophecies by about 50%. An example of this is noted below:
The Bible records that Jesus was a descendant of David, who was a descendant of Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. A general way to view the fulfillment of this prophecy is to acknowledge that Jesus was a descendant of Abraham—hence, one prophecy was fulfilled.
Specific: Most Bible scholars record prophecies in a more precise way—counting each part of a general prophecy fulfillment as an independent prophecy fulfillment. An example is noted below: The Bible records that Jesus was a descendant of David, who was a descendant of Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. Therefore, four prophecies (not one) are fulfilled—Jesus was a descendant of Abraham (1), and Isaac (2), and Jacob (3) and David (4).
The Precision of Prophecy
Most psychics today speak in very general terms and offer what I call ‘Fortune cookie-type counsel.’ It is important to note that Bible prophecies are specific and measurable. And though many have tried, no one has been able to prove a Bible prophecy to be in error. There are approximately 1000 general prophecies in the Bible; about 900 have come to pass, 895 have been verified to be true. 5 are unverifiable at this time (but as they are unverifiable they cannot be used to prove the prophecy is false). Jesus fulfilled more than 125 specific prophecies.
Scholars note the probability of Jesus fulfilling just eight prophecies picked at random is approximately 1 in 1017. These odds approximates the likelihood of blindly picking the one marked silver dollar mixed in with coins two feet deep in an area the size of Texas. Scholars have noted that the probability of Jesus fulfilling just 48 prophecies is 1 in 10157 – that is one, followed by 157 zeroes! That number represents roughly the number of atoms in the universe.
It is not difficult to illustrate the precision of Bible prophecy. Ezekiel 4 provides one example. The prophet Ezekiel wrote at a time in history when his nation, Israel, had fallen to invaders and most citizens were taken away as slaves to serve in Babylon. Ezekiel chapter 4 notes how long it would be before Israel would again be a sovereign and independent nation. Let’s take a look at this prophecy:
Ezekiel chapter 4 refers to the number of days the prophet was bound (on his left and right sides). That number of days (430) prophetically points to the number of years it would take before Israel would be restored as a nation (Ezek. 4:4-6). To represent the duration of Israel’s and Judah’s judgment, respectively, Ezekiel was bound with cords and lay on his left side for 390 days, and on his right side for 40 days (Ezek. 4:4-8). Again, the 430 days (390 days for Israel plus 40 days for Judah) in Ezek. 4:6 represents 430 years. Jeremiah prophesied that the period of captivity would last exactly 70 years. Historians note that Babylon captured Israel (and took inhabitants away as slaves) in the spring of 606 B.C. and that exiles were allowed to return precisely 70 years later (just as foretold) in the spring of 536 B.C.
The fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years of exile (Israel not being an independent nation) took place in 536 B.C. when exiles returned to Jerusalem. However, that still left 360 years of judgment to be served (430 – 70 years = 360 years). Though exiles were allowed to return to Israel, Israel would remain part of the Persian Empire for some years. One might ask: what happens 360 years later? Did Israel become an independent nation at that time (176 B.C.)? The answer is no. In fact, when Jesus ministered on the earth, Israel still had not re-established as a nation. At the turn of the 20th century, Israel still had not become an independent nation, and this is why.
Leviticus 26:18 indicates that in the face of stubborn rebellion, the Lord “will punish you seven times more for your sins.” Many Hebrews returned to Israel, but most quickly fell away from true faith. Therefore, the 360 years noted were to be multiplied by seven, equaling a total of 2520 biblical years [360 day years]. To convert the 2,520 prophetic years into solar years, one must multiply 2,520 by the 360 days in the prophetic year (907,200 days). The next step is to divide 907,200 days by 365.25 (the length of a solar year). The answer is 2,483 calendar years, 9 months, 21 days. Therefore, Ezekiel’s prophecy indicates that the end of Israel’s displacement/judgment would occur 2,483 calendar years, 9 months, 21 days after the end of the Babylonian exile (which took place on July 23, 537 B.C.). When one adds 2,483 calendar years, 9 months, 21 days to July 23, 537 B.C (the year in which the Babylonian captivity ended), they arrive at May 14, 1948 (the precise day Israel regained their independence under UN Charter).
Three Categories of Bible Prophecies
Prophecies concerning Israel: There are many prophecies about the land of Israel. They speak of the formation of the nation of Israel, wars against Israel, the exile of the Hebrew people and their return to the land, the restoration of the nation of Israel and prophetic events in and near Israel in the last days.
Prophecies concerning the Gentile World: Many prophecies profile the rise and fall of Gentile kingdoms; for example, Daniel 11-12 presents more than 100 such prophecies.
Prophecies concerning the Messiah: There are several hundred specific prophecies concerning the Messiah. During His first coming the Messianic fulfilled more than 125 specific prophecies – scores more will be fulfilled in the last days.
Four Prominent Concentrations of Prophetic Fulfillment
The 100 year period surrounding the birth of Israel (roughly 1450—1350 B.C.) marks the first significant concentration of prophetic fulfillment. During this time Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, and Joshua led Israel to possess the ‘promised land.’ Prophecies include:
- God told Abraham that from him would come a nation.
- God revealed the nation’s borders.
- God foretold of an upcoming time in Egypt.
- God foretold the coming 10
- God foretold their new home in the new land.
- God foretold the quail and manna they would eat.
- God revealed which armies they would face, and conquer.
The period surrounding the exile of Israel (roughly 620—520 B.C.) marks the second significant concentration of prophetic fulfillment. During this time Israel turned away from the Lord, was overrun by Babylon, served 70 years in captivity and then returned to rebuild Jerusalem and the Second Temple. Prophecies include:
- Judah will make treaties with other nations but will fall.
- The northern kingdom will fall first, followed by Judah.
- Jerusalem will fall.
- The “Jews will be scattered.” (Deut. 28:64; Ezek. 36:17-24)
- Invaders will destroy the temple.
- The people will be taken away in bondage (for 70 years).
- The temple treasure will be taken but returned.
- A foreign king will issue a decree to return the treasure and provide for Hebrew rebuilding projects.
- Permission will be given to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple.
The 100 year period surrounding the birth and ministry of Christ (roughly 5 B.C.—95 A.D.) marks the third significant concentration of prophetic fulfillment. During this time the Messiah was born, crucified, and rose again, the church was established and received the Holy Spirit. Prophecies include:
- A star will announce the birth of the Messiah.
- The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.
- His birth will be associated with the slaughter of innocents.
- Miracles will mark his ministry.
- His ministry will be in the region of Galilee.
- He will be falsely accused, tried, convicted and crucified.
- He will rise on the third day.
- The New Testament Church will be born.
- The Gentile Church will bring the Gospel message to the world.
The final concentration of prophetic fulfillment will unfold in the last days. Many believe that we are now in the final period of prophecy fulfillment and that this last prophetic cycle began when Israel became a sovereign and independent nation (1948 A.D.). During this time ‘birth pains’ will increase, the tribulation period will begin, and the Antichrist will come to power. Prophecies include:
- Knowledge and birth pains will increase. (Matthew 24; Daniel 12)
- Jews will return to Israel. (Zech. 8:7-8)
- The Hebrew language will once again be the predominant language spoken in the land of Israel. (Zeph. 3:9)
- Israel will bloom/prosper. (Isaiah 35)
- A confederation of 10 nations will attack Israel.(Psalm 83)
- Destruction will befall the city of Damascus. (Isaiah 17:1)
- There will be technology for global commerce. (Rev. 13:16-18)
- The Gospel preached to all. (Matt. 24:14, 28:18-20)
- A peace agreement/covenant will be signed. (Daniel 9:27)
- Permission will be given to rebuild the Temple.(Matthew 24:15)
Why is there such an emphasis on prophecy in the Bible?
Speaking of prophecy the prophet Isaiah noted: “I declared them (prophecies) to you long ago, before they took place I proclaimed them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol has done them…'” (Isaiah 48:5). God uses prophecy to declare that He is the author of all that is good. He is in control, He has a plan for the future, and nothing takes Him by surprise. Noted below are a few prophetic verses which provide insight regarding what to expect in the last days.
- “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book UNTIL the time of the end many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall increase” (Daniel 12:4). This verse indicates that the ability to understand the meaning of the more difficult Bible prophecies will increase in the last days.
- “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:28-31). This verse indicates that prophetic visions will be given (to the young, old and unlikely) in the last days.
A Syllabus for Prophetic Language
The language of prophecy: The language of the Old is Hebrew. Therefore, it is essential to interpret Old Testament prophecies in light of ancient Hebrew culture. For example, in our culture, someone might say: “After I watch the Hawks and 49ers on the 60” plasma, I’m going to drive the Ford to SeaTac then catch the Red Eye to the Windy City. Most today would have little difficulty understanding that sentence. However, if we went back in time just 100 years the sentence would not make sense. Now, remember, Bible prophecies are more than 2000 years old, and presented in a different cultural context. Therefore, interpreting prophetic words and phrases must be done with great care. A few common words with uncommon meanings are noted below:
- Days = often equal
- Week = a week of years or 7 years.
- Horn = represents power.
- Biblical years = 360 days (the ancient calendar followed lunar cycles).
- Animals can be used to represent kings and kingdoms.
- Wind = can describe a war or a unique working or moving of God.
- Water = means life or cleansing; it can also represent judgment.
- Oil = a sign of blessing.
- Virgin = signifies purity.
- Prostitute/harlot = unfaithful or false church.
- The numbers 3, 7, 10, 12, 40, 70, 120, 1000, 144,000 have spiritual (and symbolic) importance.
- The number 1000 = was considered perfect and uncountable.
- A generation = 40, 70 or 80 years (depending upon the verse or specific context).
- Fire and various signs in the heavens warn of or announce divine judgments and appearances.
- End days/Last days/End times = the period from Pentecost to the end of the Great Tribulation.
- Birth Pangs = The end of the Last Days to the beginning of the Tribulation period.
- The Tribulation = The last 7
- The Great Tribulation = The last 3 ½ years.
- The Millennial reign = Jesus’ final reign on earth (understood as a literal period of 1000 years).
The gift of prophecy is an expression of God’s love. Because He loves us, He warns us. God wants His people to know He is aware of what is happening, and what will happen. Prophecy is given as an empirical proof for the existence of God. Prophecy shows God is master of the future. Prophecy validates the integrity of Scripture. Bible prophecy is without error and without equal, as is our God!
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