A 200-Year Prophecy

Atheist Carl Sagan posed the question:

“…has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science?” [1]

Gates of All Nations in PersepolisYesterday, I introduced two of my favorite Bible prophecies. Today, I share a third concerning Cyrus the Great, King of Persia.

Cyrus Called by Name

The prophet Isaiah records this startling prophecy:

24       Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb:
“I am the LORD, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself,
25       who frustrates the signs of liars
and makes fools of diviners,
who turns wise men back
and makes their knowledge foolish,
26       who confirms the word of his servant
and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,
who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’
and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,
and I will raise up their ruins’;
27       who says to the deep, ‘Be dry;
I will dry up your rivers’;
28       who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
and he shall fulfill all my purpose’;
           saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’
      and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’ ” (Isaiah 44.24-28)

Cyrus cylinder in the British MuseumIn the greater context surrounding these verses, God is proving a point: “I am the LORD and there is no other” (Isaiah 45.5-7). In order to prove that He is the only God, He calls Cyrus specifically by name almost 200 years before Cyrus came on the scene! In fact, when Isaiah penned this prophecy, Assyria was the superpower. Babylon would come next, pushing out the Assyrians and capturing Jerusalem. But after Babylon reigned in power for about 100 years, the Persian empire would rise and overcome them. Cyrus the Great is the Persian King who brought Persia to the height of power.

Jeremiah also had prophesied concerning the fall of Babylon and concerning the length of time the Jews would remain in bondage:

‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the LORD, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation.’ (Jer. 25.12)

For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.’ (Jer. 29.10)

The fulfillment of these prophecies are recorded in Ezra 1.1-2:

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah…”

How did Isaiah know Cyrus’ name so many years in advance? How did he know Assyria would fall to Babylon and Babylon would fall to Persia? He didn’t! God spoke those words through the prophet, and the events transpired exactly as God had foreseen.


[1] Carl Sagan. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Random House, Inc., New York: 1996, p. 30.

A Religion with Prophetic Accuracy

Carl SaganAs one of the latest foremost proponents of atheism, Carl Sagan writes:

“…to entertain the notion that we are a particularly complex arrangement of atoms, and not some breath of divinity, at the very least enhances our respect for atoms…”[1]

He continues:

“…to find that our ancestors were also the ancestors of apes ties us to the rest of life and makes possible important–if occasionally rueful–reflections on human nature.

Like it or not, we are stuck with science. We had better make the best of it.

But superstition and pseudoscience keep getting in the way, distracting…providing easy answers, dodging skeptical scrutiny, casually pressing our awe buttons and cheapening the experience.”[1]

In a footnote, Sagan insists, “We are, as I like to say, starstuff.”[2]

While comparing religion and science, Sagan poses a poignant question:

“…has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science?”[3]

Now that’s a good question! One of the absolute greatest evidences for the Bible is its incredible track record of prophecies and prophetic fulfillment. Over the next few days I’d like to share some of my favorite Bible prophecies.

Today, let’s think on the promise to Abraham in Genesis 22 and Jacob’s prophetic blessing on his son Judah in Genesis 49.

Promise to Abraham

To Abraham, God promised, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall posses the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22.17-18).

CrossThe rest of the entire Bible contains the account of how God fulfilled this momentous promise! Abraham’s family did, indeed, become a great nation, one which has endured to this day. The Old Testament traces the seed of Abraham all the way through Egyptian bondage, their exodus from Egypt, their settling in Palestine, their series of judges and kings, their captivity in Babylon, their return to Palestine, and finally their rebuilding of Jerusalem and their house of worship. The New Testament picks up 400 years after the Old Testament leaves off, but it continues the same story–the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham!

The final fulfillment of that promise is through Jesus Christ, as Paul points out in Galatians 3.14, “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith,” and Galatians 3.16, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”

Judah Is the Royal Tribe

Again back in Genesis 49.8-10, we find a prophecy Jacob spoke concerning his son Judah:

8       “Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
9          Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
10       The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
      nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
            until tribute comes to him;
      and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

Lion of JudahThis prophecy was not fulfilled until King David came to the throne some 900 years later! David was from the tribe of Judah, and after him throughout Israel’s history someone from David’s family was always on the throne. What tribe do you think Jesus was from? He is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Rev. 5.5).

In a second, much later prophecy, an angel informed Mary: “The Lord God will give to [Jesus] the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1.32-33).

How did Jacob know kings would come through Judah’s lineage? How did Jacob know Jesus, the great and final King, would also be from Judah? He didn’t! He prophesied by the power of the Spirit of God.

Those are pretty specific prophecies, aren’t they? Carl Sagan wondered if there was a religion which had this kind of precision in its prophecies–I’d say yes!

The Bible itself tells us that if someone gives a prophecy and it does not come to pass, we don’t have to listen to another thing that person says (Deut. 18.21-22). So if the Bible claims to be Scripture, every prophecy had better come to pass; otherwise it invalidates itself. That is a tall order, but in my studies it always measures up to it’s perfect standard.


[1] Carl Sagan. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Random House, Inc., New York: 1996, p. 13.

[2] ibid., p. 14.

[3] ibid., p. 30.

The Historical Jesus – Part 2

Yesterday we discussed Josephus and Tacitus, two men who were not Christians but who wrote about Jesus. Today, I’ll introduce the testimonies of Pliny the Younger and Lucian of Samosata.

Pliny the Younger

Pliny the YoungerPliny is called “the younger” because he is Pliny Junior, son of Pliny the Elder. He wrote many letters which have been preserved for posterity, among which is one addressed to Emperor Trajan circa A.D. 112 concerning his dealings with Christians in his area. Following is his letter and the emperor’s reply.

This does not assert that Christ really lived, but it does show the early existence of the Christians and their incredible faith until death.

Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

Trajan to Pliny the Younger

You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

While these letters do not directly deal with the historicity of Jesus, they do show a large number a men and women who were so convinced of His reality they were willing to die for Him. And this was a mere 80 years after Jesus’ death.

 

Lucian of SamosataLucian of Samosata

Lucian was a satirist around A.D. 170. He showed himself hostile against Christians, which makes his testimony in Passing of Peregrinus concerning them quite believable. Lucian’s protagonist Perigrinus was a philosopher who decided to take advantage of some gullible Christians (in his satirical story):
 

11.    “It was then that he learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine.   And—how else could it be?—in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.

….

13.   “Indeed, people came even from the cities in Asia, sent by the Christians at their common expense, to succour and defend and encourage the hero. They show incredible speed whenever any such public action is taken; for in no time they lavish their all.  So it was then in the case of Peregrinus; much money came to him from them by reason of his imprisonment, and he procured not a little revenue from it. The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. So if any charlatan and trickster, able to profit by occasions, comes among them, he quickly acquires sudden wealth by imposing upon simple folk.

Lucian’s testimony is over 100 years after Christ’s death, but he exposes the believes of the Christians, at least, of his time, which was that the man Christ actually lived. He calls Jesus “the man who was crucified in Palestine” and “their first lawgiver” and “that crucified sophist himself.”