Accidental fulfillment of prophecies?
The New Testament writers cite messianic prophecies from the Old Testament more than 130 times. By some estimates the Old Testament contains 300 prophetic passages that describe who the Messiah is and what He will do. Of these, 60 are major prophecies. What are the chances of these prophecies being fulfilled in one person?
Of course, as apologist Dr. Norman Geisler points out, God makes no mistakes. It is virtually inconceivable that God would allow either a total deception in His name or an accidental fulfillment in the life of the wrong person. Such things rule out a chance fulfilment.
One might argue there is still that possibility—however remote. But the mathematical odds that all of these prophecies could have converged by chance in the events of the life of Jesus are staggeringly minute—to the point of eliminating any such possibility.
Astronomer and mathematician Peter Stoner, in his book Science Speaks, offers a mathematical analysis showing that it is impossible that the precise statements about the One to come could be fulfilled in a single person by mere coincidence.
The chance of only eight of these dozens of prophecies being fulfilled in the life of one man has been estimated at 1 in 10 to the 17th power. That would be 1 chance in 100,000,000,000,000,000.
How can we put this in terms we can comprehend? Dr. Stoner illustrates the odds with this scenario: “Take 100,000,000,000,000,000 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas [with its approximate land area of 262,000 square miles]. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one.
“What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man.”
But that is only eight of the dozens of prophecies of the Messiah. Using the science of probability, the chance of as many as 48 of these prophecies coming to pass in one person is 1 in 10 to the 157th power—a 1 followed by 157 zeros.
One or two fulfillments in Jesus’ life could be dismissed as coincidental. But when the instances of fulfilled prophecies are counted up, the law of probability quickly reaches the point where mere probability becomes certainty. This is one of the proofs Jesus was the promised Messiah—the messianic prophecies were accurately and precisely fulfilled in Him.
Was their fulfillment contrived?
A common objection some raise is that Jesus and His followers deliberately attempted to fulfill these prophecies. Advocates of this idea allege that Jesus manipulated events to make it look like He fulfilled the prophecies.
There is no doubt that Jesus did take some steps to directly fulfill prophecy, such as securing the donkey on which to ride into Jerusalem and making sure that His disciples had swords to be reckoned as criminals (see Matthew 21:1-7; Luke 22:36-38). This was not, however, deceptive. After all, God explained in the Old Testament how He is able to foretell the future: “I am God… declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done… Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass” (Isaiah 46:9-11).
Christ, as God made flesh, was simply bringing to pass what He had foretold. However, if only a typical human being, Jesus would not have been able to fulfill everything foretold about the Messiah.
While the idea might sound intriguing, it’s impossible when you consider what Jesus would actually have had to do. To begin, He would have to have successfully manipulated His own place of birth and His human lineage. He would have to have arranged for His time to be born, so that as an adult He could begin His ministry and arrange for His death all according to the time frame of the prophecy of Daniel 9. On top of that, He would have to have engineered His own miraculous virgin birth.
If this theory had any sense of plausibility, it still would make no sense that Jesus would not fulfill the Jewish expectation of a Messiah who was to come as a king to rule the people at that time. Jesus certainly had that opportunity if He had wanted to become a physical king and leader of the Jewish nation. Many were willing to follow Him and make Him king (John 6:15; 12:12-19). Instead He took the route that led to His horrible suffering and death.
He accurately fulfilled the prophecies according to the intent of God, but contrary to the common understanding at the time. He became a servant and was willing to give His life as payment for the sins of all (Matthew 20:28). The character of such a person hardly qualifies Him to be a charlatan and a fake—one who manipulates events for His own benefit.
Fulfillment of prophecy is proof
God, who is able to control all events, caused these prophecies to be written hundreds of years before they were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. As Peter proclaimed, “Those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He [Jesus] has thus fulfilled” (Acts 3:18).
Paul reaffirmed that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” and that “He was buried, and…He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
To accurately foretell these events 200 to 800 years in advance is nothing less than a miracle—one that required divine knowledge and power to bring them to pass as foretold. God doesn’t do things by chance. He knew even from the foundation of the world that His Son would have to come to earth (1 Peter 1:20), and He foretold the events of His birth, death and life so we would have firm evidence on which to base our belief.
(UNITED CHURCH OF GOD, an International Association)