Prophecy is one of the greatest lines of evidence in proving that the Bible is from God. Prophetic utterances should be differentiated from wishful thinking, chance circumstances, lucky guesses, or hunches that just happen to come true. Also, prophesy should be differentiated from a selective rewriting of history whereby individuals are shaping the present to fulfill the past. People arrive at the conclusion that the message is Divine when they realize that the most reasonable power that links knowledge of an event and the transpiring of that event is God himself. When the details and lines of history are carefully considered the reader is left like Nicodemus–no man could do these things unless he is from God (cf. John 3:1-2), or Thomas – My Lord and My God (cf. John 20:28)!
The motive of the prophet is another element worth considering in prophecy. The prophet’s motivation was to glorify God and they diligently proclaimed the Law of Moses to draw people back to God. Occasionally, a prophet would foretell the future. When prophets foretold things that came to pass immediately in their days, they were trusted (cf. Deut. 18:20-22). These events were readily distinguishable from chance happenings or the work of magicians. Most of what comes down to us from prophets is teaching instead of foretelling. However, the elements that foretell are of tremendous benefit in proving the Bible is indeed from God.
Further, we want to make sure that we listen to the testimony of the prophet and carefully consider their motive. Not every prophet then was a true one. In being an objective listener or reader today, it is certainly reasonable to be open to the possibility that the prophecy was and now is false. When Jesus spoke with his disciples he said “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt. 24:9). Elsewhere the Bible reads “many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Carefully eliminating false prophecies from true ones is a virtuous enterprise. If the prophecies of Daniel, Joel, or Isaiah were false, what exactly was there immediate motivation? Generally, lies are told for some immediate fulfillment, perhaps fame, notoriety, or maybe even some material gain of some sort. For those who disbelieve in the words of Daniel, Isaiah or Joel, what possible motive would they have had to lie about something hundreds of years in the future? This is not to argue that lying about the future is impossible. Rather, when you couple the impeccable character, unrelenting faithfulness, and trust worthiness of the prophet along with our 20/20 vision of the historical fulfillment of their testimony a Divine conclusion is most reasonable.
Let’s consider the example of John the Baptist. Consider the prophecy made and fulfilled about his coming. God reveals his coming through Isaiah and Malachi. Approximate 740 years prior to the first century, Isaiah prophesied that “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’” (Whitcomb n.p.; Is. 40:3). When one reads “a voice” they may think that this is a bit general and not specific in identifying precisely who that particular voice was that was yet to come. Isaiah’s prophecy is specific in that it identifies a singular voice, but not exactly who it would be. Consider another prophetic line of evidence.
Malachi who prophesied approximately 300 years after Isaiah prophesied “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me” (Whitcomb n.p.; Mal 3:1). Also, Malachi prophesied “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (Mal. 4:5). Prior to the first century we know that a singular voice is coming and that it will be like Elijah.
When the first century comes, John the Baptist is identified as the precise fulfillment of these prophecies. Luke records that John the Baptist was like unto Elijah in that he was going before Christ “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). Jesus likens John to Elijah (Matt. 11:13-14). John himself, when pressured by the Jews, admits he was not “the prophet,” referring to Jesus (John 1:19, 21). Rather, he was the voice of the one crying in the wilderness concerning the Christ who was to come (John 1:19-23). Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all affirm that John the Baptist was the one who fulfilled what Isaiah spoke of so many years before (Matt. 3:3, Mark 1:1-3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23).
How does this prove that the Bible is from God? Historically, the record of the witnesses comes down to us intact. They were not selectively rewriting history. In person John’s life singularly fulfilled what Isaiah and Malachi spoke of hundreds of year prior. The trustworthy Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Jesus all confirm what God had revealed. Indeed no man could know these things unless he was from God.
Whitcomb, John. Chart of Old Testament Patriarchs and Judges. Chicago: Moody Press, 1968.