If you’ve ever cracked open a Chinese fortune cookie, you might have read something like this: “Your golden opportunity is coming shortly.” As far as prophecies go, this isn’t very impressive. But have you ever wondered if there is such a thing as real prophecy—accurate messages about the future from a supernatural source? The Bible claims to contain many such messages. Can that really be proven? Or are these prophecies like a fortune cookie, so vague and general that they can almost certainly be fulfilled without advance supernatural information?
To answer that question, we need to consider several passages from the Old Testament that Christians claim are detailed and specific messages about Jesus, with verifiable details, written hundreds of years before his birth. Many Jews believed that God was going to send an individual, the Messiah (“anointed one”), to liberate the Jewish people from their oppressors and bring about worldwide peace. Prophecies about the Messiah were woven throughout their Scriptures. Were they legitimate?
One such passage is Daniel 9:24-27. It says in verse 24 that 70 “weeks” have been decreed for the Jews and for the holy city (Jerusalem). Verse 25 says that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, until the Messiah the Prince, there will be seven weeks and 62 weeks. In the symbolic language used by Daniel and in other similar writings, the weeks are understood as seven-year periods, rather than seven days. So there are 69 “weeks” between the decree and the Messiah, which is 483 years. We aren’t told why this is broken up into two groups of seven and 62, so 483 years assumes they are consecutive with no gap.
Then it says that after the 62 weeks, the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the city and the sanctuary will be destroyed by the people of the prince (ruler) who is to come. This is a specific prediction that Jerusalem and the Temple, which was being rebuilt, would be destroyed, apparently by an invading force or army. When would this happen? Well, it all depends on what decree is taken as the starting point (there were multiple decrees related to the rebuilding of the city and Temple) and how you count the years. After the time of Jesus, Christians worked it out so that the numbers came out exactly to his public ministry while Jewish scholars after this time worked out very different interpretations. Both of these groups were probably influenced by their biases. Jewish commentators before the time of Jesus, however, were free of either pro-Christian or anti-Christian bias. Most of them thought the Messiah would come around the turn of the first century A.D. That, of course, was right around the time that Jesus was born. So it’s no surprise that in the Gospels there are records of people asking about Jesus, “Is this the Christ (Messiah)?” They had read Daniel’s prophecy and knew that the time for the Messiah was at hand.
Daniel’s prediction of the city and Temple being destroyed were fulfilled in 70 A.D. by Roman armies under General Titus. Now, traditionally Daniel was believed to have been written by Daniel in the 6th century B.C. Many contemporary scholars think this can’t be true, partly because its predictions of world history are so accurate that they think it must have been written in the 2nd century B.C. Setting arguments over that aside, even the later date was 150-200 years before the destruction of the second Jewish Temple. So it was either 600-700 years in advance or 150-200 years. Either way, it was a prediction of the future that was fulfilled, and the book of Daniel correctly determined the century in which it would happen.
So, if this was a message from God, then who was the Messiah? The only detail given is that he would be cut off and have nothing. That does sound like it could be talking about Jesus, who died without any wealth or property, had no descendants, and whose own followers reportedly abandoned him at his death. But it could probably refer to other people as well. In the coming weeks to Christmas, we will continue to gather information and get a better picture of prophecy and the birth of Christ. Follow along with us each Thursday as we explore this topic.